NRC approves use of Framatome codes in advanced nuclear fuel development

26 April 2023

Framatome received approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to apply the company's suite of Advanced Codes and Methods to operating conditions with uranium-235 enrichments above the industry standard of 5%.

(Image: Framatome)

"This approval is a critical step toward the company's goal of reload readiness by 2027 for implementing nuclear fuel with higher uranium enrichments and burnups in the current light water reactor fleet," Framatome said. "The NRC decision is an important milestone for the company's advanced fuel development efforts targeting improved fuel utilisation for nuclear plant operators and systematic improvements for safety and plant economics."

Fuel vendors and power reactor licensees are exploring the possibility of increasing the maximum enrichment of fuel up to 10%, but NRC regulations currently limit uranium-235 enrichment levels in power reactor fuel to no more than 5% by weight. In June 2021, the NRC accepted for review a topical report to apply Framatome's suite of Advanced Codes and Methods to operating conditions with U-235 enrichments above 5%.

Framatome said its Advanced Codes and Methods provide significant operational margin gains. "These margins provide nuclear plant operators with the flexibility to extend their reactor performance when coupled with the company's nuclear fuel technology and its higher enrichment and burnup characteristics."

The company said the NRC approval also demonstrates that Framatome can "effectively model reactor behaviour in the evaluation of neutronic, thermal hydraulic, small- and large-break loss-of-coolant-accident (LOCA), non-LOCA safety analysis, and thermal mechanical performance with fuel enriched above current limits".

In February 2022, the NRC approved a licence amendment allowing Framatome's shipping containers to transport fresh nuclear fuel assemblies in the US having U-235 enrichments up to 8%. The NRC also approved the methodology used to demonstrate that Framatome's fuel fabrication facility will retain current safety margins when higher enriched material is received and processed into fuel.

"Based on this approval, major equipment orders have been placed to support the system upgrades needed to process higher enrichments," Framatome said.

The advanced fuel technology is being developed at Framatome facilities worldwide and will be built at the Richland, Washington, nuclear fuel manufacturing facility, which in 2009 received the first 40-year fuel fabrication operating licence approval, extending its licence to 2049.

The Richland facility produces uranium oxide powder, pellets and fuel rod components as well as fuel assemblies for both pressurised water reactors and boiling water reactors. It is currently licensed to possess and process uranium enriched to a maximum of 5% U-235.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News