ORNL to test accident tolerant fuel irradiated at Byron-2

August 4, 2021, 3:02PMNuclear News
Irradiated lead test rods are delivered to Oak Ridge National Laboratory for examination. (Photo: ORNL)

Several lead test rods of Westinghouse’s EnCore accident tolerant fuel recently arrived at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for post-irradiation examination over the next year in support of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing process. The rods were installed in 2019 in Exelon’s Byron-2, a 1,158-MWe pressurized water reactor, and were removed in fall 2020 and prepared for shipment to ORNL.

The news was announced by the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE) on August 3, and Westinghouse celebrated the advance on August 2 in its own news release. According to Westinghouse, “Visual inspections of the fuel showed no signs of degradation.”

Westinghouse ATF program: The fuel rods feature EnCore chromium-coated zirconium alloy cladding and ADOPT (Advanced Doped Pellet Technology) fuel pellets, designed to improve fuel cycle economics, enable longer operating cycles, and enhance the accident tolerance of conventional fuel pellets.

Westinghouse developed the fuel through the Department of Energy’s Accident Tolerant Fuel Program, an industry-led effort with support from Idaho National Laboratory and ORNL that includes fuel development by Framatome and General Electric’s Global Nuclear Fuel. According to the DOE, all three vendors are on track to have their accident tolerant fuels ready for batch loading by the mid-2020s and commercially available with widespread adoption by 2030.

Westinghouse is developing its fuel in two phases: ADOPT and chromium cladding in the near term, and uranium nitride pellets and a silicon carbide–based concept—being developed with General Atomics—for future implementation.

“Westinghouse continues to make incredible strides in the development of its accident tolerant fuels,” said Frank Goldner, a nuclear engineer with DOE-NE. “These fuels will have a tangible impact on the industry once deployed in the near term and could help make our U.S. fleet more economical to operate.”

A coordinated effort: According to ORNL, the lead test rods were removed during a fall 2020 refueling outage and shipped by NAC International to ORNL in June. The shipment was made possible through coordinated efforts between ORNL, the lab’s DOE Site Office, Idaho National Laboratory, Westinghouse, NAC International, and Exelon.

The NRC accepted a topical report on Westinghouse’s ADOPT fuel for review in 2020 after the company submitted the report in May 2020. A draft safety evaluation of the report is expected by August 30.

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