BWXT starts fuel production for microreactor

08 December 2022

TRISO fuel produced at BWX Technologies Inc's Lynchburg facility in Virginia will power the Project Pele microreactor - the first microreactor to be built and operated in the USA.

A vial of the finished TRISO fuel particles (Image: BWXT)

The company is manufacturing a core for Project Pele, TRISO fuel for additional reactors and coated particle fuel for NASA under a USD37 million award from the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), with the lab managing the contract and providing technical support and oversight.

The US Department of Defense (DOD) Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) has partnered with the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop, prototype and demonstrate a transportable reactor in what has been described as a whole-of-government effort in Project Pele to develop a transportable microreactor. Such plants can deliver clean, zero-carbon energy where and when it is needed and a resilient power source for DOD operational needs, but can also potentially be used in the civilian and commercial sectors for disaster response and recovery, power generation at remote locations, and deep decarbonisation initiatives.

BWXT was selected earlier this year by the SCO to build the prototype which is to be completed and delivered in 2024 for testing at INL. The fuel will be delivered separately.

TRISO - standing for TRIstructural-ISOtropic - particles contain a spherical kernel of enriched uranium oxycarbide surrounded by layers of carbon and silicon carbide, which contains fission products - it has been described by DOE as "the most robust nuclear fuel on Earth". The high-assay low-enrichment (HALEU) fuel is downblended from US government stockpiles of high-enriched uranium (HEU). BWXT's are the only private US facilities licensed to possess and process HEU.

US Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Kathryn Huff said it was "extremely exciting to see decades of DOE's investments in TRISO fuel … paying off to power many of the most innovative advanced reactor designs to be deployed within this decade".

"This commercial TRISO fuel production line is the culmination of more than 15 years of work at INL and other DOE national laboratories, in partnership with BWXT, to develop and qualify this fuel with immense potential for use in microreactors, space reactors and other advanced reactor concepts," INL Laboratory Director John Wagner said. "As the United States moves steadily toward a carbon-free energy future, nuclear power is an essential part of the journey. Project Pele will demonstrate the viability of this fuel type, opening the door for other advanced reactors."

BWXT said it has expanded its speciality coated fuels production manufacturing capacity through previously announced awards funded by the DoD Operational Energy Capabilities Improvement Fund Office and NASA and programme management provided by SCO. In addition to TRISO, the company also produces speciality coated fuels for NASA for the space nuclear propulsion project within the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News