USNC opens SMR fuel development laboratory

02 September 2020

Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) has established a new facility in Salt Lake City, Utah, to support the development of its proprietary Fully Ceramic Microencapsulated (FCM) fuel. Materials developed there will be used in USNC's Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) and other nuclear reactors, including gas-cooled reactors, light water reactors, CANDU reactors and molten salt cooled reactors.

FCM fuel pellets (Image: USNC)

Seattle, Washington-based USNC said Salt Lake City was selected as its fuel-development site because of the region's well-established infrastructure, knowledgeable workforce and status as a technology growth hub. The region is home to significant ceramics and materials expertise, central to the manufacturing of FCM fuel. The Salt Lake City laboratory augments USNC's materials development efforts at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and collaborations with Canada's Chalk River Laboratories.

USNC describes FCM as a next-generation uranium oxycarbide tristructural isotropic (TRISO) particle fuel design, replacing the 50-year-old graphite matrix of traditional TRISO fuel with silicon carbide (SiC). It says the result is a safer nuclear fuel that can withstand higher temperatures and more radiation. The SiC matrix in FCM fuel provides a dense, gas-tight barrier preventing the escape of fission products, even if a TRISO particle should rupture during operation. The new matrix improves the structural and containment characteristics of TRISO particles, trapping and sealing radioactive fission products permanently, preventing contamination of the environment. The higher-thermal conductivity of FCM fuel allows the fuel pellet to have a flatter temperature profile, lowering peak temperatures in nuclear reactors.

"Our accident-tolerant FCM fuel design will deliver built-in safety, especially when combined with the inherently safe design of our MMR reactor," said USNC CEO Francesco Venneri. "Establishing the new advanced materials facility in Salt Lake City will help expedite development and adoption of FCM fuel."

FCM fuel will be used first in USNC's MMR, a 15 MW thermal, 5 MW electrical high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR), drawing on operational experience from reactors developed by China, Germany, Japan and the USA. It consists of two plants: the nuclear plant that generates heat, and the adjacent power plant that converts heat into electricity or provides process heat for industrial applications. The USNC system is designed to be simple, with minimal operations and maintenance requirements, and no on-site fuel storage, handling or processing. The MMR uses fuel in prismatic graphite blocks and has a sealed transportable core.

The MMR is at an advanced licensing stage at the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's Chalk River Laboratories campus in Ontario, in collaboration with Ontario Power Generation through the jointly owned Global First Power Limited Partnership.

In February this year, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) agreed to collaborate with USNC-Power, a subsidiary of USNC, on research in support of USNC's MMR. The project will include research related to the manufacturing of USNC's FCM fuel, the design of an irradiation programme for the reactor's graphite core, and the establishment of a laboratory for fuel analysis at Chalk River. It will also include preliminary activities to explore the feasibility of siting a manufacturing facility for FCM fuel at Chalk River.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News