TRIGA International to produce fuel for US microreactor

06 December 2023

TRIGA International - a joint venture between Framatome and General Atomics - has been awarded a contract to fabricate TRIGA-like fuel for the US Department of Energy's (DOE's) Microreactor Applications Research Validation and Evaluation (MARVEL) microreactor.

Two views of INL's concept for the MARVEL reactor, to be installed at TREAT (Image: INL)

The contract was awarded through Battelle Energy Alliance LLC (BEA), which operates the Idaho National Lab (INL) - where the MARVEL reactor is planned to be constructed - on behalf of the DOE. The fuel will be fabricated at Framatome's dedicated TRIGA manufacturing facility at CERCA Romans, in France, in line with the schedule of the MARVEL project.

"We thank the DOE and BEA for their confidence in our expertise with the contract award," said François Gauché, vice president of CERCA at Framatome and president of TRIGA International. "We are very excited about the MARVEL project. Our US customer can count on our dedication to the success of this project."

TRIGA - standing for Training, Research, Isotopes General Atomics - reactors are primarily used for student training, research projects and isotope production. These pool-type reactors operate at thermal power levels from less than 0.1 to 16 megawatts, and are pulsed to 22,000 megawatts. More than 66 TRIGA units have been built around the world since 1960, 36 of which remain in operation today. Twelve of the 18 TRIGA reactors in the USA are located at universities, with fuel managed by the DOE through the Research Reactor Infrastructure programme within the Office of Nuclear Energy.

Framatome and General Atomics created the TRIGA International joint venture in 1995 to market TRIGA fuel elements manufactured at CERCA Romans, the only supplier of uranium-zirconium hydride fuel for use in TRIGA-type reactors.

TRIGA-type fuel designs are being explored for new applications beyond university training. The unique properties of TRIGA fuel can be seamlessly transitioned to non-TRIGA plants such as small modular, micro or advanced reactors, Framatome said.

The award of the MARVEL fuel contract follows the restart of the TRIGA programme after nearly 10 years. The CERCA Romans facility resumed operations in December 2021 after completing an USD80 million modernisation project, funded by the DOE and TRIGA International, which began in 2018.

In February 2022, the DOE agreed a nine-year contract with TRIGA International to secure new fuel elements for its TRIGA research reactors. It agreed to purchase 668 new fuel elements over the next nine years with an initial procurement of 55 elements. The first delivery of TRIGA fuel was to Penn State University in September.

MARVEL - a liquid-metal cooled microreactor equipped with Stirling engines - is expected to produce 85 kW (thermal). It is to be constructed at INL's Transient Reactor Test Facility - using off-the-shelf components, which will allow for faster construction - where it will be used to test microreactor applications, evaluate systems for remote monitoring, and develop autonomous control technologies. DOE has said it plans to connect the reactor to the lab's first nuclear microgrid. The reactor could be operational as soon as the end of next year.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News