The nuclear industry’s first 100 percent accident tolerant fuel assembly is in operation at Exelon Generation’s Calvert Cliffs plant, the Department of Energy announced yesterday. The advanced fuel will operate in the reactor for the next four to six years and will be routinely inspected to monitor its performance, the DOE said.
Located in Lusby, Md., Calvert Cliffs houses two pressurized water reactors. Unit 1 is rated at 907 Mwe, and Unit 2 at 881 Mwe.
Why it matters: The lead fuel assembly was fabricated at Framatome’s manufacturing facility in Richland, Wash., under a 2019 contract with Exelon. Inserted into Unit 2 during the reactor’s spring refueling outage, the assembly contains 176 chromium-coated fuel rods and chromia-enhanced pellets that improve tolerance to changes in the reactor core and are expected to reduce corrosion and hydrogen production under high-temperature conditions, according to the DOE.
The new fuel prototype builds on previous testing in the United States and Switzerland through Framatome’s PROtect program, which aims to deliver the first major upgrade to the industry’s fuel and cladding technologies since the 1970s.
What they’re saying: “Loading the first complete accident tolerant fuel assembly is a huge milestone for Framatome and the nuclear energy industry,” said Lionel Gaiffe, senior executive vice president of Framatome’s fuel business unit. “This is the next step in our PROtect program and further demonstrates our commitment to advancing nuclear fuel technology by offering more efficient and reliable solutions to support the production of low-carbon energy.”
Frank Goldner, a nuclear engineer in the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, added, “This is a major milestone for Framatome, Exelon, and the entire industry at large. Accident tolerant fuels are expected to enhance the performance of today’s reactors and will help fuel our future path to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.”
The more the safer: Framatome is one of three U.S. fuel vendors—the other two being General Electric and Westinghouse—working with the DOE to develop new fuel and cladding mixtures aimed at improving the overall economics and performance of today’s reactors.
The three companies are currently on track to have their fuels ready for batch loading by the mid-2020s, with widespread commercial adoption by 2030, the DOE said.