BWX Technologies announced on January 24 that it has been awarded a $4.9 million contract amendment to produce TRISO fuel particles using natural uranium and to demonstrate performance under a defined production schedule. BWXT’s Nuclear Operations Group will perform the work at BWXT’s Lynchburg, Va., facility, where TRISO production was restarted in November 2020. The contract amendment was awarded by Battelle Energy Alliance, which manages Idaho National Laboratory on behalf of the Department of Energy.
The basics: The award amends a competitively bid base award announced in July 2020 and brings the overall contract value to $31.2 million. The initial award funded the expansion of BWXT’s TRISO manufacturing capacity and upgrades to existing systems in support of anticipated fuel needs of NASA and the Department of Defense. The project is jointly funded by NASA and the DOD Operational Energy Capabilities Improvement Fund Office, with overall program management provided by the DOD Strategic Capabilities Office.
On TRISO: The term “TRISO” is short for “tristructural isotropic.” TRISO particles are 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 high-temperature gas-cooled reactors or molten salt–cooled reactors.
BWXT’s Category I production facility is currently licensed to produce high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel, and samples of HALEU TRISO are being examined in a series of experiments at INL’s Advanced Test Reactor under the DOE’s Advanced Gas Reactor program. (Read more about TRISO and the AGR program in a feature article published in the August 2020 issue of Nuclear News, “Two decades of DOE investment lays the foundation for TRISO-fueled reactors.”)
What they’re saying: “We are excited and confident about the growing market for TRISO and specialty fuels, and with our third TRISO fuel production contract since the spring of 2020, we believe that confidence is being validated,” said Joel Duling, president of the BWXT Nuclear Operations Group. “We are uniquely positioned to capture additional work in fueling, designing, and manufacturing microreactors.”
BWXT is designing TRISO-fueled microreactors using previously announced Risk Reduction funding from the DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program and from the DOD’s Project Pele.