Microreactor company looks to INL for fuel fabrication plant site

22 August 2023

Microreactor technology company NANO Nuclear Energy Inc has begun the due diligence for locating a nuclear fuel fabrication capability at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), which it says could begin production as soon as 2027.

The Zeus reactor is designed to fit inside a standard ISO container (Image: NANO Energy)

The company, which is developing the Zeus and Odin microreactors, said it has made a" key submission" to the US Department of Energy (DOE) which "initiates its due diligence for consideration of locating a NANO Nuclear fuel fabrication capability on the INL site."  The submission includes answers to questions posed by DOE along with a proposed memorandum of understanding, including facility site selection, for the project, NANO said. The submission is being undertaken with assistance from INL.

The proposed facility would be integrated with INL facilities, and would be able to produce fuel for the laboratory's work as well as fuel for NANO Nuclear and for other potential customers. "Locating its fuel manufacturing facilities at INL would allow NANO Nuclear to avoid transporting nuclear material over public roads, which initial planning shows will save considerable time and cost," the company said. "NANO Nuclear's DOE submission contemplates a Nuclear Regulatory Commission-licensed facility that can produce a variety of fuel types catering to a range of customers as soon as 2027."

The company said there is a "national capability gap" in the USA relating to nuclear fuel fabrication for the next generation of microreactors and advanced nuclear reactors: "As the company began planning for its anticipated reactor business, securing fuel for its Zeus and Odin reactors became a principal priority. The capability gap presented the company with an opportunity to secure its own fuel supply while satisfying a national demand and creating new business opportunities."

NANO signed a Strategic Partnership Project Agreement with INL in April.

Jay Jiang Yu, NANO's founder, executive chairman and president, said the submission and collaboration with INL are a "big step forward" for the company. "We believe that our Zeus and Odin microreactors represent the leading edge of advanced nuclear microreactor technology and pairing this with the ability to focus on our own fuel in collaboration with the nation’s pre-eminent nuclear laboratory would be key vertical integration for our company that would both propel our own reactor business and create very promising additional business opportunities for NANO Nuclear," he said.

The Zeus microreactor features a fully solid core and is designed to fit within a standard ISO shipping container. Heat removal is through thermal conduction, eliminating the need for coolant and pumps. Odin, described as a low-pressure coolant reactor, is designed to use conventional sintered pellet UO2 fuel with up to 20% uranium-235 enrichment. NANO says it will use a unique reactivity control system design, minimising the number of moving parts, and will use natural convection of coolant for heat transfer. It will operate at higher than conventional water-cooled reactor temperatures, which the company says will allow resilient operation and high-power conversion efficiency in generating electricity.

In February, NANO announced the formation of its HALEU Energy Fuel Inc subsidiary to develop, improve and accelerate domestic US production of high-assay low enriched uranium.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News