Southern Nuclear last Friday announced that its Vogtle Unit 2 reactor has become the first U.S. commercial reactor to be authorized by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to use accident tolerant fuel exceeding 5 percent uranium-235 enrichment.
In June 2022—having earlier in the year agreed on a plan with Westinghouse to install four lead test assemblies (LTAs) with next-generation fuel features into Vogtle-2—Southern asked the NRC for license amendments and exemptions from certain agency regulations to move the plan forward.
The LTAs, developed under Westinghouse’s High Energy Fuel initiative, would contain ADOPT uranium dioxide pellets enriched to 6 percent, AXIOM fuel rod cladding, and chromium-coated cladding, combined with Westinghouse’s PRIME fuel assembly design. ADOPT pellets and chromium-coated cladding are both part of Westinghouse’s EnCore Accident Tolerant Fuel program and were designed with support from the Department of Energy to increase fuel durability and temperature tolerance.
The NRC issued its first-of-a-kind approval of Southern’s request on August 1 of this year, allowing two cycles of operation. Southern is projecting installation of the LTAs in early 2025.
Official words: “Nuclear power accounts for nearly half of our country’s clean energy, and Southern Nuclear is committed to pushing for innovative, game-changing technologies like the deployment of accident tolerant fuel that will advance performance and further support our ability to strengthen grid reliability with 24/7 generation,” stated Southern Nuclear president Pete Sena. “Realizing the significant role nuclear power plays in our country’s energy infrastructure, I especially want to recognize the NRC’s thorough yet timely review of this installation to support the future of commercial nuclear power in our country.”
Tarik Choho, Westinghouse president of nuclear fuel, offered a tip of the hat to Congress and the DOE for demonstrating “their deep understanding of the positive impacts of accident tolerant fuel, and their support has been critical to our ability to advance fuel technology with higher burnup rates.” Choho also said he is “grateful to Southern Nuclear for their trust” and that he looks forward to “delivering advanced technologies that will bolster the light water fleet and support the low-cost generation of nuclear power in the long term.”