ORNL to examine irradiated accident tolerant fuel assemblies

December 7, 2020, 12:02PMNuclear News

An accident tolerant fuel experiment developed by Global Nuclear Fuel arrives at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for testing. Photo: ORNL

Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF) has announced that irradiated lead test assemblies of its IronClad and ARMOR accident tolerant fuel (ATF) have been delivered to Oak Ridge National Laboratory for examination. The unfueled IronClad rods and fueled ARMOR rods, the first ATF samples to be installed in a commercial reactor, completed a 24-month fuel cycle at the Hatch nuclear plant near Baxley, Ga., in February and were shipped to ORNL in early November.

The test samples, manufactured at GNF’s facility in Wilmington, N.C., are part of an industry-led effort with the Department of Energy to commercialize new fuels that could help boost the performance and economics of U.S. reactors within the decade. Framatome and Westinghouse are also involved in the DOE’s ATF program.

According to GNF’s December 3 announcement, ORNL’s examination of the samples will include visual inspections, microscopy, and measurements of the thickness, corrosion, and other mechanical and material properties of the cladding. These data, GNF said, will be used to determine the performance benefits of the materials and support the licensing of new fuel technologies with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy noted in a December 4 press release that initial visual inspections of the test samples showed no visible signs of flaws or degradation on either of the assemblies.

Fueling the future: “We are proud to continue our work with customers and partners to develop innovative fuel solutions to lead the industry into the future,” said Jon Ball, executive vice president of nuclear products for GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. “The results of this testing are an important step in the commercialization of advanced fuel technologies.”

Andrew Nelson, head of ORNL’s Fuel Development Section, said, “ORNL has had the privilege to be a part of this work since it started, and we are excited to lead this next step. We appreciate the support of DOE, particularly our local partners, in helping bring these assemblies to ORNL, and we look forward to leveraging innovative techniques in exploring and better understanding what these materials could mean for nuclear energy.”

Test subjects: According to GNF, its IronClad concept uses a combination of iron, chromium, and aluminum to provide low oxidation rates at higher temperatures to improve safety limit margins, while ARMOR’s hard, oxidation-resistant coating layered on top of zirconium cladding provides enhanced protection of fuel rods against debris fretting, as well as superior material behavior over a range of conditions, thereby improving safety limit margins and abrasion resistance.

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