Thorium-HALEU fuel pellets begin ATR irradiation campaign

April 15, 2024, 12:00PMNuclear News
ANEEL fuel experiment capsules being staged at the ATR. (Photo: Clean Core)

Clean Core Thorium Energy (Clean Core) has announced that its ANEEL fuel is ready to begin irradiation testing and qualification at Idaho National Laboratory. The fuel, made of thorium and HALEU, was developed by Clean Core for use in pressurized heavy water reactors, including CANDU (Canadian deuterium-uranium) reactors. Irradiation of the fuel samples in INL’s Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) is set to begin this month.

The experiment plan: In 2022, Clean Core announced a strategic partnership project agreement with INL to design and execute an irradiation experiment to assess the performance of Clean Core’s fuel, named ANEEL for “advanced nuclear energy for enriched life.” After receiving more than 300 ANEEL fuel pellets fabricated by Texas A&M University’s Department of Nuclear Engineering, INL developed an irradiation test plan, performed preirradiation characterization of the fuel pellets, designed and fabricated the experiment hardware and test trains, assembled the test trains, and inserted the experiment into the ATR.

The CCTE-ANEEL-1A irradiation experiment, announced by Clean Core on April 1, will target levels of high-burnup currently unreachable by traditional CANDU and PHWR fuels. Irradiation is planned to reach burnup targets of up to 60 gigawatt-days per metric ton. As each successive burnup target is achieved, test capsules containing irradiated ANEEL pellets will be sent to INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex for destructive and nondestructive postirradiation examination.

According to Clean Core, the thorium in ANEEL fuel could help PHWRs realize improved performance, including decreased life-cycle operating costs, reduced high-level waste volumes, increased safety margins, and proliferation resistance.

They said it: “We are pleased to be partnering with private sector companies, such as Clean Core, to apply INL’s unique expertise and capabilities in advanced fuels development and qualification to enable global U.S. leadership in nuclear energy,” said Jess Gehin, associate lab director for INL’s Nuclear Science and Technology Directorate.

“Irradiating homogeneously blended thorium and uranium oxide in ATR is a first-of-a kind experiment for INL and the [Department of Energy]. We are excited to see the potential of the ANEEL fuel technology and what the future of this technology holds,” added Michael Worrall, a nuclear engineer at INL and principal investigator for the CCTE-ANEEL-1A experiment.

“Clean Core is focused on the efficient development and deployment of the ANEEL fuel in heavy water reactors, without any modifications to the fuel bundle geometry or the reactor. Given the advanced reactor benefits achieved, this fuel can play an important role in meeting the immediate need for clean baseload power globally,” said Mehul Shah, founder and chief executive officer of Clean Core.

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