Advanced Nuclear Fuels Open Doors to New Applications

New Fuels for Old

  • new lamps for oldUK Generates Electricity from Americium. Plans Use for Deep Space Missions
  • Russia’s TVEL Announces New Nuclear Fuel Types and Customers
  • X-energy Partners with Nuclear Fuel Industries on Future TRISO Fuel Production

Other Nuclear News

  • NuScale and South Korea’s DHIC Announce Strategic Cooperation
  • Argonne Pushes Ahead with Work on Versatile Test Reactor
  • France to Delay Closing 14 Nuclear Reactors by a Decade

UK Generates Electricity from Americium.
Plans Use for Deep Space Missions

Americium_Tile-300x300(WNN) The UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and University of Leicester have generated usable electricity from the chemical element americium in what it believes to be a global first. The achievement is seen as a step towards potential use of americium in space batteries, which may mean future space missions can be powered for up to 400 years. This is a new use for the element an isotope of which is widely used in home smoke detectors.

Americium is an element not found in nature, but which is produced by the radioactive decay of plutonium – which itself is produced during the operation of nuclear reactors. A team led by NNL has extracted americium from some of the UK’s plutonium stocks, and used the heat generated from this highly radioactive material to generate electric current, which in turn lit up a small light bulb at NNL’s Central Laboratory in Cumbria, England.

Space batteries are power sources for space probes which would use the heat from americium pellets to power sensors and transmitters as the probes head into deep space where other power sources such as solar panels will no longer function, NNL said. In this way, such probes can carry on sending back vital images and data to Earth for many decades – far longer than would otherwise be possible.

The technical program to deliver this world first has been running for several years, supported by funding from the European Space Agency (ESA), and has seen NNL working very closely with the University of Leicester.

The work of European Thermodynamics Ltd in helping to develop the thermoelectric generator unit was a vital part of this collaboration, and support from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, who permitted the use of plutonium from the UK stockpile under their stewardship, was also essential.

NNL has had interest from space agencies which want to have the system ready to power a lunar mission later next decade. There is also interest for applications on the Earth where a power source that potentially lasts 100s of years has benefits.

NNL spokesman Adrian Bull added: “Some current probes use an isotope of plutonium for this purpose – but that’s in increasingly short supply. This route of using Americium takes something that’s generally regarded as a problem and turns it into an asset. Our work is funded by the European Space Agency and they are interested to use the americium approach for future European space missions.”

Bull added: “The americium in plutonium is potentially a problem for re-using the plutonium as new fuel. In extracting the americium from aged plutonium stocks, we end up with both the separated americium and also ‘cleaner’ plutonium – for potential re-use in the fuel cycle. So it’s a win-win.”

The plutonium is not recycled the process “cleans” the americium from it, which would have been a waste. With sufficient applications, all of the UK plutonium could be ‘cleaned’ of the americium. The returned plutonium is in a better condition, ready for further storage or reuse as nuclear fuel.

NNL have produced a short film that explains the technical milestone, which can be viewed here:

Until now space batteries, known as radio isotope thermonuclear generators (RTGs), have been powered by the decay heat of PU-238.

Meanwhile NASA continues work on KiloPower, an uranium powered system, capable of providing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power – enough to run several average households – continuously for at least 10 years. Four Kilopower units would provide enough power to establish an outpost on Mars or the Moon.

One of the trade offs involved is that the energy density of Americium is much less by orders of magnitude than PU-238. This means more mass of the material is needed to produce the same level of electrical energy.  In terms of launch costs, mass equals cost, and an increase in mass not only means more costs, but also could impact payload especially the very science instruments the missions is intended to carry.

Russia’s TVEL Announces New Nuclear Fuel Types and Customers

(WNN) TVEL, the nuclear fuel subsidiary of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom,  is working on a ‘dual-component’ approach to closing the nuclear fuel cycle, as well as innovations in fuel for VVER units.

In an exclusive interview with World Nuclear News, Konstantin Vergazov, TVEL’s senior vice-president for Science, Technology and Quality, explained progress in these areas.

Until now space batteries, known as radio isotope thermonuclear generators (RTGs), have been powered by the decay heat of PU-238. spoke to WNN on April 16, during the XI International Forum Atomexpo 2019 held in Sochi, Russia.

See the full text of the exclusive interview here

Last year Rosatom adopted a strategy with a 100-year outlook based on fast neutron reactors and thermal neutron reactors. For this, TVEL is developing mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel and REMIX fuel, with both using recycled uranium together with plutonium. This is the dual-component approach.

Rosatom to launch commercial fast neutron reactors

At the Siberian Chemical Combine [SCC] site, in Seversk, Russia is building a demonstration center, a reactor installation, a facility for recycling used nuclear fuel and a shop floor for fabrication of nuclear fuel for the fast reactor.

“This is an R&D investment project and once we obtain the results we’ll apply them all over the world in the nuclear market, but we’ll start in Russia first,” Vergaazov said in his WNN interview.

The BREST-OD-300 lead-cooled fast-neutron reactor is part of Rosatom’s Proryv, or Breakthrough, project to enable a closed nuclear fuel cycle. The ultimate aim is to eliminate production of radioactive waste from nuclear power generation. The Breakthrough project comprises a fuel production/fabrication module for production of dense uranium plutonium (nitride) fuel for fast reactors; a nuclear power plant with a BREST reactor; and a used fuel retreatment module.

In December 2018, TVEL launched batch production of MOX fuel assemblies for the BN-800 fast neutron reactor – constructed as unit 4 of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in the Sverdlovsk district – which entered commercial operation in October 2016. The 789 MWe unit’s capacity exceeds that of the world’s second most powerful fast reactor – the 560 MWe BN-600 Beloyarsk 3.


On plans for a BN-1200 reactor, for which a target date of 2027 has been reported, Vergazov plans are not yet firm for construction of the plant.

“In the near term we will be studying the idea at the site in Seversk where we are building the demonstration centre and energy complex, but there hasn’t yet been any official decision about building that reactor installation, nor on making an investment into it. Within our strategy with a 100-year outlook, there are still two options of how we should develop the fast neutron reactor technology, whether we will have sodium or lead coolant.”

VVER-1000 Fuel

TVEL has developed a “fourth-generation” fuel line – TVS-4 – for VVER-1000 reactors. These fuel assemblies, with increased capacity and more advanced design, are expected to significantly improve the economic performance of nuclear power plants while maintaining the same level of safety.

Fourth generation fuel assemblies are being introduced at European nuclear power plants with VVER reactors – last year, the third batch of TVSA-12 fuel was loaded into the Kozloduy reactors in Bulgaria and the first batch of TVSA-T.mod.2 fuel cassettes was loaded into the Temelín nuclear reactor in the Czech Republic. TVEL has plans to supply fourth-generation fuel assemblies to other countries.

TVEL is also ready to introduce fuel with an enrichment of more than 5% (up from 4.85% currently). It will allow nuclear power units to switch to the 24-month fuel cycle – that is, shutting down operations to load fresh fuel assemblies into the reactor will occur once every two years, instead of every year and a half, as it is now.

X-energy Partners with Nuclear Fuel Industries
on Future TRISO Fuel Production

Triso-fuel_thumb.pngX-energy has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Nuclear Fuel Industries, Ltd. (NFI) of Japan that establishes a partnership on the supply of tristructural isotropic (TRISO) nuclear fuel fabrication equipment. The equipment will be installed in X-energy’s planned TRISO-X Commercial Fuel Fabrication Facility in Tennessee.

Under the MOU, X-energy and NFI will begin planning the transfer of commercial-scale equipment from NFI’s Tokai Works facility to X-energy’s Oak Ridge TRISO fuel fabrication facility. The study is scheduled to begin this year and include the discussion of fuel kernel production, TRISO fuel compacts production and uranium recovery equipment – which have actually been used for the production of fuel in prismatic high temperature gas-cooled reactors in Japan.

“Our MOU with NFI is another significant stride forward to establish our TRISO-X fuel business as the world leader in TRISO fuel fabrication for both commercial and government applications. Advanced reactors are the bridge to our energy future and our TRISO-X Facility will be a key enabler for deployment of the advanced reactor industry,” said X-energy’s Vice President of Fuel Production Dr. Pete Pappano.

“X-energy’s pilot fuel facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is complete and fully operational. We now turn our focus to completing the design, financing, and licensing of our TRISO-X Commercial Fuel Fabrication Facility, scheduled to begin commercial-scale fuel production in the 2023-2024 timeframe,” Pappano continued.

X-energy is actively producing TRISO-based fuel forms and is implementing pilot scale manufacturing capacities. Tristructural Isotropic (TRISO) coated fuels are unique in their multi-layer encapsulation of uranium, leading to increased safety and proliferation resistance while employing functional containment.

X-energy is an advanced nuclear reactor design and TRISO-based fuel fabrication company. The firm says its design of a high temperature gas-cooled pebble bed reactors will require less time to construct, use factory-produced components, cannot melt down, and IS “walk-away” safe without operator intervention.

NuScale and South Korea’s DHIC Announce Strategic Cooperation

NuScale Power LLC and Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction Co., Ltd. (DHIC) have announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for strategic cooperation to support deployment of the NuScale Power ModuleTM (NPM) worldwide. The relationship includes DHIC, a member of the Doosan Group, and potential Korean financial investors, which, commensurate to final due diligence, plan to make a cash equity investment in NuScale.

DHIC is expected to bring its expertise in nuclear pressure vessel manufacturing, and will join the larger U.S.-led manufacturing team to build NuScale’s NuScale Power ModuleTM (NPM).

“NuScale welcomes this strategic relationship with DHIC – a leader in the global manufacturing industry,” said John Hopkins, Chairman and chief executive officer of NuScale Power.

Under the terms of the MOU, DHIC, which is a manufacturer of nuclear reactor pressure vessels, is expected to build a portion of the most critical and complex NPM sub assemblies for the plant under development for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. NuScale has said elsewhere that it plans to break ground in the early 2020s and begin operation in 2026.

“We are impressed with the simplicity, safety and cost-effectiveness of NuScale’s design, and we look forward to collaborating with the company as they bring America’s first SMR to market,” said Ki Yong Na, CEO of Doosan Nuclear Power Plant Business Group.

“Furthermore, we see great potential for international applications of NuScale’s carbon-free technology, and look forward to collaborating with NuScale as the company pursues additional opportunities.”

Under the terms of the MOU, which is subject to a satisfactory due diligence negotiation of a definitive agreement and regulatory approvals, the companies are aiming to close the strategic supplier agreement in July 2019.

NuScale’s technology is the world’s first and only SMR to undergo design certification review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC is scheduled to complete its review of NuScale’s design in September 2020.

Argonne Pushes Ahead on Versatile Test Reactor

vtr-logo_thumb.pngPivotal technology will enable evaluation of many advanced reactor fuels and designs. National labs are competing for the project as DOE has not yet selected the site where it is to be built.

Argonne is working on the development of a conceptual design for an irradiation test reactor called the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR).

Although the VTR will not produce electricity, it will allow nuclear engineers to try out different fuels, coolants and other reactor components as they evaluate new technologies for future generations of advanced nuclear reactors.

Within the VTR, scientists will perform irradiation experiments in several different test locations where they can evaluate innovative fuels or other experimental setups

The VTR will consist of a sodium-cooled fast reactor, a design that has been around for several decades; the reactor will be the first fast-neutron spectrum testing facility built in 20 years. Within that platform, scientists believe that the VTR can reveal the advantages of different reactor technologies.

The fundamental purpose of the VTR is scientific discovery integral to a better understanding of how different fuels and reactor materials behave under real-world conditions,  Experiments using the VTR could examine how materials change during and after irradiation.

The site of the VTR has not been determined, although it will likely reside near or at a DOE national laboratory. According to scientists at Argonne, the could be completed in 2026 — a relatively short time given the amount of work and investment that goes into building a new reactor.

The VTR program is led by Idaho National Laboratory, with Argonne leading the core design and safety analysis. Other national laboratories participating in the VTR program include Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest and Savannah River. Funding for the VTR program is provided through DOE’S Office of Nuclear Energy. On February 22, 2019,

DOE determined the need for a fast neutron testing capability and estimated its costs between $3.0 to $6.0 billion with an estimated completion date between 2026 and 2030.

General Electric will design the structural components of the reactor. See prior coverage on this blog – GE Tapped for Design Work on Versatile Test Reactor

France to Delay Closing 14 Nuclear Reactors by a Decade

The Financial Times, London, reports that France will delay by 10 years the shutdown of part of its nuclear power industry in order to fulfill President Emmanuel Macron’s aim of making the country carbon-neutral by 2050.

According to the newspaper, François de Rugy, environment minister, presented an energy and climate bill to the cabinet that will place the 2050 target in law> it will propose to cut greenhouse gas emissions to less than a sixth of their 1990 levels.

The overall French 2050 target is the same as that recommended by the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, which wants legislation to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by that year.  The net result of the new law would be that France would not close 14 reactors by 2028.

World Nuclear News reported that to achieve this carbon-neutral objective, France has adopted a strategy for energy and climate, broken down into two major pillars: the National Low Carbon Strategy and the Multiannual Energy Program presented at the end of 2018 by the government, and that will formally come into force when the energy-climate bill is passed by parliament.

The draft bill sets a trajectory to decarbonise the energy mix by accelerating the decline in fossil energy consumption to at least 40% in 2030, instead of the less than 30% forecast in the French Energy Transition for Green Growth Law. It also calls for the end of electricity production from coal in metropolitan France by 2022, by putting in place a legal framework allowing the shutdown of coal-fired power plants.

However, the bill also calls for “realistic goals to transform our energy model by increasing the timeframe for reducing nuclear power to 50% by 2035 instead of 2025, which would have required the construction of new gas-fired plants, and would have involved an increase in our greenhouse gas emissions.”

In the background the French government is working with EDF to develop a new, smaller version of the 1600 MW EPR and to reduce the cost of building new full size nuclear reactors. The government will also consolidate EDF as a wholly owned state corporation buying out some institutional investors who have a minority stake in the firm.

Last January World Nuclear News reported that Framatome will develop a new version of the EPR large reactors, as well as working with EDF and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission to develop a small modular reactor based on French technology.

“This contract defines the roadmap and reciprocal commitments between industry, the state and trade unions to build the future of the nuclear industry and support the achievement of projects with high stakes, particularly on skills, digital transformation, R&D and exports, said Framatome Chairman and CEO Bernard Fontana.

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