BWXT restarts TRISO fuel manufacturing

November 12, 2020, 9:39AMNuclear News

BWX Technologies Inc. announced on November 10 that its BWXT Nuclear Operations Group Inc. (BWXT NOG) subsidiary has completed its TRISO nuclear fuel line restart project and is actively producing fuel at its Lynchburg, Va., facility.

With the restart, BWXT now manufactures fuel across four commercial and government business lines, the company said. In addition to the TRISO line, BWXT operates fuel production lines at BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada, manufacturer of approximately half of the fuel powering the commercial reactor fleet in Ontario, Canada; BWXT subsidiary Nuclear Fuel Services, sole provider of nuclear fuel for the U.S. Navy; and BWXT’s Uranium Processing and Research Reactors operation, the only North American supplier of research reactor fuel elements for colleges, universities, and national laboratories.

What they’re saying: “The restart of our TRISO line positions BWXT as the only company in the United States that is currently executing production contracts for TRISO fuel,” said Joel Duling, president of BWXT NOG. “I’m very proud of our team for blending new, innovative ideas with our extensive history and experience in fuel development and manufacturing.”

What is TRISO? The term “TRISO” is short for “tristructural isotropic.” The Department of Energy describes TRISO particles as being made up of uranium, carbon, and oxygen fuel kernels encapsulated by three layers of carbon- and ceramic-based materials to prevent the release of radioactive fission products. The particles are tiny—about the size of a poppy seed—and can be fabricated into cylindrical pellets or billiard ball–sized spheres called “pebbles” for use in either high-temperature gas-cooled reactors or molten salt–cooled reactors.

According to the DOE, TRISO fuels are structurally more resistant to neutron irradiation, corrosion, oxidation, and high temperatures (the factors that most impact fuel performance) than traditional reactor fuels.

Background: BWXT announced in October 2019 that it was in the process of restarting its existing TRISO nuclear fuel line and planning to expand its existing capacity within about 12 months. “The expansion to BWXT’s existing TRISO fuel production capability will position the company to meet emergent client interests in Department of Defense microreactors, space reactors, and civil advanced reactors,” the company stated at the time.

In March 2020, BWXT announced a contract with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to demonstrate the capability to manufacture TRISO nuclear fuel to support the continued development of the Transformational Challenge Reactor. The scope of the contract included the fabrication and delivery of uranium kernels, TRISO-coated surrogate materials, and TRISO-coated uranium kernels for a demonstration batch.

Then in June 2020, BWXT announced a contract with Idaho National Laboratory to expand the company’s TRISO manufacturing capacity and produce a demonstration quantity of the fuel. The project is jointly funded by the DOD’s Operational Energy Capabilities Improvement Fund Office and by NASA, with overall program management provided by the DOD’s Strategic Capabilities Office.

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