BWXT restarts TRISO fuel manufacturing

BWX Technologies Inc. announced on November 10 that its BWXT Nuclear Operations Group Inc. (BWXT NOG) subsidiary has completed its TRISO nuclear fuel line restart project and is actively producing fuel at its Lynchburg, Va., facility.

With the restart, BWXT now manufactures fuel across four commercial and government business lines, the company said. In addition to the TRISO line, BWXT operates fuel production lines at BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada, manufacturer of approximately half of the fuel powering the commercial reactor fleet in Ontario, Canada; BWXT subsidiary Nuclear Fuel Services, sole provider of nuclear fuel for the U.S. Navy; and BWXT’s Uranium Processing and Research Reactors operation, the only North American supplier of research reactor fuel elements for colleges, universities, and national laboratories.

Nuclear tech in space: What’s on the horizon?

Illustration of a Mars transit habitat and nuclear electric propulsion system. Image: NASA

NASA aims to develop nuclear technologies for two space applications: propulsion and surface power. Both can make planned NASA missions to the moon more agile and more ambitious, and both are being developed with future crewed missions to Mars in mind. Like advanced reactors here on Earth, space nuclear technologies have an accelerated timeline for deployment in this decade.

Space nuclear propulsion and extraterrestrial surface power are getting funding and attention. New industry solicitations are expected this month, and a range of proposed reactor technologies could meet NASA’s specifications for nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP). Nuclear electric propulsion could increase the feasibility of crewed missions to Mars with a shorter transit time, a broader launch window and more flexibility to abort missions, reduced astronaut exposure to space radiation and other hazards, expanded payload mass capabilities, and reduced cost.

Progress being made toward Mo-99 production at Darlington

Darlington nuclear generating station. Photo: OPG

Ontario Power Generation, its subsidiary Laurentis Energy Partners, and BWXT ITG Canada and its affiliates announced on September 24 that the companies are making “significant progress” toward the production of molybdenum-99 at OPG’s Darlington nuclear power plant. Darlington will become the first commercial operating nuclear reactor to produce the medical radioisotope.

A precursor to technetium-99m, Mo-99 is used in more than 40 million procedures a year to detect cancers and diagnose various medical conditions.

BWXT awarded contract to expand TRISO production line

BWX Technologies has signed a $26-million, 20-month contract to expand and upgrade its TRISO fuel manufacturing line. The recently announced deal, awarded by Idaho National Laboratory, calls for the expansion of BWXT’s capacity for the manufacture of TRISO fuel compacts and the upgrading of existing systems for delivering production-scale quantities of TRISO fuel.

Framatome acquires BWXT’s U.S. nuclear services

Framatome has completed its acquisition of BWX Technologies’ U.S. commercial nuclear services business, the France-based company announced on June 2. With this transaction, the company said, Framatome expands its portfolio of equipment and tooling for nuclear power plant inspections and maintenance.

BWXT will receive an 118,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and the associated 11 acres of land from Framatome in the cashless exchange.

DOE awards $13-billion tank closure contract

The Department of Energy has awarded a $13-billion tank closure contract for services at its Hanford Site, near Richland, Wash. The 10-year contract was awarded on May 14 to Hanford Works Restoration, a joint venture of BWXT Technologies and Fluor Corporation that also includes DBD and INTERA, two preselected small businesses that provide specialized modeling and regulatory expertise, respectively.

Hanford Works Restoration will take over from Hanford’s current tank waste contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), whose contract expires at the end of September. The WRPS contract includes a clause that allows the DOE to end the contract earlier to align with a 60-day transition to the new contract.

BWXT makes progress on TRISO production restart

BWX Technologies has announced the successful formation and sintering of uranium oxycarbide (UCO) fuel kernels that, once coated, will make up the fissile core of TRISO (tristructural isotropic) fuel particles. With that process demonstrated, BWXT has shifted the focus of its TRISO production restart to bringing two more furnaces online—an additional sintering furnace, used to apply heat and pressure to a solid fuel kernel, and a coating furnace.

Defense Department invests in three microreactor designs

Three reactor developers got a boost on March 9 when they were each awarded a contract from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to design a reactor that can fit inside a standard shipping container for military deployment. The DOD’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), in partnership with the Department of Energy, proposes to build and demonstrate a 1–10 MWe reactor within four years that, if successful, could be widely deployed to support the DOD’s domestic and operational energy demands.

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The promise of nuclear thermal propulsion

The United States is pursuing the objective to land humans more than 100 million miles away on Mars, and nuclear power has the potential to be a key technology in getting to the Red Planet and providing power while there. Specifically, nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) is a promising approach that could enable astronauts to travel from Earth’s orbit to Mars and back in a fraction of the time, and with greater safety, than is available with other options.

Why Nuclear is an Emerging Technology for the Space Economy

Nuclear energy has played a key supporting role in historic missions to Mars, Pluto, and across the Solar System for the last 50 years. On January 1 2019, the nuclear-powered New Horizons flew by the most distant object ever observed up close - Ultima Thule, after it having already flown by Pluto in 2015.