Skip to main content

INL Reached a Milestone on Nuclear Fuel Performance

From ScienceDaily:
The research to improve the performance of coated-particle nuclear fuel met an important milestone by reaching a burnup of 9 percent without any fuel failure. Raising the burnup level of fuel in a nuclear reactor reduces the amount of fuel required to produce a given amount of energy while reducing the volume of the used fuel generated, and improves the overall economics of the reactor system.

The [Idaho National Lab] team studied the very successful technology developed by the Germans for this fuel in the 1980s and decided to make the carbon and silicon carbide layers of the U.S. particle coatings more closely resemble the German model. The changes resulted in success that has matched the historical German level.

INL's Advanced Test Reactor was a key enabler of the successful research. The ATR was used to provide the heating of the fuel to watch the fuel's response. The fuel kernel is coated with layers of carbon and silicon compounds. These microspheres are then placed in compacts one-half-inch wide by two inches long and then placed in graphite inside the reactor for testing. The fuel element is closely monitored while inside the test reactor to track its behavior.

...

The team has now set its sights on reaching its next major milestone -- achievement of a 12-14 percent burnup* expected later this calendar year.

...

*A burnup is a measure of the neutron irradiation of the fuel. Higher burnup allows more of the fissile 235U and of the plutonium bred from the 238U to be utilised, reducing the uranium requirements of the fuel cycle.
Pretty exciting stuff.

Comments

Kirk Sorensen said…
Thank you for posting this, David, but to me it just points out the inherent limitations of solid nuclear fuel forms. They are inherently compromised by their covalent bonds.

Liquid-fluoride forms of nuclear fuel have ionic bonding that is impervious to radiation damage, and can achieve essentially unlimited radiation exposure. Which means fuels in fluoride form (like UF4 or ThF4) can achieve essentially 100% burnup. All of this was demonstrated in ORNL test reactors back in the 50s and 60s, but has been almost entirely forgotten by today's nuclear engineering community.
Rod Adams said…
Kirk:

Keep reminding us. In the meantime, the high temperature solid fuel does have some useful advantages over conventionally available light water reactor fuel in zircalloy cladding.

As you know, I really like the idea of using that fuel in simple gas turbine machines that can make the "high capital" cost disadvantage of nuclear power an obsolete concept in certain markets.

Rod Adams
Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.
Pete said…
Has anyone run the numbers to convert this 9% burnup to megawatt-days per metric tonne? Since plutonium is being produced at the same time, is it 9% of initial fissile material or 9% of total uranium?
Alessandro said…
Pete,

It' s 9% of burn-up of all heavy metals. If you consider that the fission of one gram of HM produces about 1 MWday of thermal enenrgy, that 9% means about 85-90 MWd per kg of strarting low enriched uranium

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…