New TRIGA fuel delivered to a U.S. university reactor for the first time in a decade

October 3, 2023, 3:22PMNuclear News
The TRIGA shipment was received September 27. (Photo: Kate Myers/Penn State)

Penn State’s Radiation Science and Engineering Center (RSEC) has received the first new TRIGA fuel shipped to the United States since 2012, the university announced on September 28. The fuel reached University Park, Pa., on September 27 and is destined for RSEC’s Breazeale Reactor, the nation’s longest continuously operating university research reactor.

TRIGA fuel elements received at Penn State. (Photo: Kate Myers/Penn State)

A DOE investment: The 30 zirconium-hydride fuel elements, valued at $8.3 million, were purchased by the Department of Energy as part of a nine-year contract with TRIGA International, a joint venture between General Atomics and Framatome. TRIGA International is the world’s only supplier of the TRIGA fuel (which stands for Training, Research, Isotopes General Atomics), and after a recent multiyear upgrade project at its production facility in Romans, France—funded in part with nearly $16 million from the DOE—fuel production recently restarted. The DOE manages nuclear fuel provisions for the nation’s university-operated reactors through its University Fuel Services Program.

According to the DOE, which also announced the TRIGA delivery to Penn State, plans call for the purchase of more than 660 new fuel elements for TRIGA reactors in the United States, as well as similar fuel elements for MARVEL—a tiny test reactor that will demonstrate microreactor operations and end use applications at Idaho National Laboratory.

“This shipment of fuel represents DOE’s commitment to our university research reactors that are helping to train the future nuclear energy workforce,” said Kathryn Huff, DOE assistant secretary for nuclear energy. “I’m also pleased to see this fuel support Penn State’s facility expansion and their new role as a Nuclear Science User Facilities partner helping to advance the nation’s nuclear R&D.”

Breazeale capabilities: The Breazeale Reactor is one of 17 TRIGA reactors in operation in the United States, including 12 at universities. In 2018, the Breazeale gained five new beam ports, and in 2022 research was expanded with a new neutron beam hall, making room for a small angle neutron scattering (SANS) instrument that is soon to be installed. Penn State will become the only university research reactor facility in the United States with such an instrument, which will allow researchers to measure how neutrons scatter when they interact with a variety of sample materials, providing nanoscale details on their structures.

“Penn State’s nuclear research enterprise continues to grow in new and exciting ways, and this new fuel supports that growth,” said Andrew Read, interim vice president for research at Penn State. “Through significant investments to the reactor that now allow simultaneous neutron beam operations, as well as a partnership through the Nuclear Science User Facilities program, the university is uniquely positioned to make significant advances in nuclear science, share our knowledge and educate the next generation of nuclear engineers.”

“It is certainly an exciting time for neutron science at Penn State, and the potential for discovery here is profound,” said Kenan Unlu, director of RSEC and professor of nuclear engineering at Penn State. “With RSEC’s recent expansion, the reactor will be available for more research than ever before. These new fuel elements will enable us to run the reactor for longer period of times to support studies conducted by Penn State faculty, students, and collaborators at other universities and government agencies.”

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