Framatome declares ATF test at Vogtle a success

February 8, 2021, 7:00AMNuclear News

The $111.2 million in financial assistance awarded by the Department of Energy in late 2018 to nuclear fuel developers Framatome, General Electric, and Westinghouse for the development of accident tolerant fuel has yielded some encouraging results.

Framatome reports that the first 18-month fuel cycle test of its GAIA Enhanced Accident Tolerant Fuel (EATF) technology, conducted at Southern Nuclear’s Vogtle-2, has “demonstrated expected results and excellent performance.”

And last month, Westinghouse announced that the topical report on its Advanced Doped Pellet Technology fuel has been accepted for review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, calling the decision “a major achievement for the advanced fuel portfolio Westinghouse is developing.”

Leading the way: Framatome’s lead fuel assemblies (LFAs) of GAIA fuel were installed in the Vogtle unit in April 2019 during the reactor’s spring refueling outage. The assemblies were then removed and inspected during a refueling outage in August 2020, marking the first time a full-length EATF concept with both pellets and cladding has completed a fuel cycle in a commercial power reactor. The test was the first of three planned 18-month cycles of operation for the LFAs, which will undergo more detailed inspections following the remaining two cycles, according to Framatome.

High standards: “This significant milestone confirms that our EATF technology performs to the industry’s highest standards,” said Lionel Gaiffe, senior executive vice president of Framatome’s Fuel Business Unit, in the company’s February 2 announcement. “Our team is committed to advancing this technology so we can offer our customers enhanced safety, efficiency, reliability, and economic and performance benefits.”

Background: Framatome developed its GAIA fuel with Southern Nuclear as part of the fuel vendor’s ATF research and development program, dubbed PROtect.

Fuel developed under the PROtect program has a chromium coating added to zirconium-alloy cladding to improve high-temperature oxidation resistance and reduce hydrogen generation during loss of cooling. The chromium coating also reduces creep to maintain a coolable geometry, has mechanical properties that allow for more operator response time, and offers increased resistance to debris fretting during normal operations, according to Framatome. The fuel pellets are chromia enhanced and have a higher density, reduced fission gas release, and improved behavior during loss of cooling.

The LFAs were fabricated at Framatome’s manufacturing facility in Richland, Wash., and delivered to the Vogtle site in January 2019.

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