Unique fuel facility restarts fabrication

04 February 2022

The US Department of Energy has agreed a nine-year contract with TRIGA International to secure new fuel elements for its TRIGA research reactors. These will be the first fuel elements to be fabricated since the recent reopening of TRIGA International's fuel fabrication facility in France, which shut for refurbishment in 2012.

The first four castings from the restarted plant (Image: TRIGA International)

TRIGA International is a joint venture of Framatome and General Atomics. Its fuel manufacturing facility at Romans-sur-Isère is the only supplier of uranium-zirconium hydride fuel for use in TRIGA-type research reactors. The facility resumed operations on 20 December after completing an extensive renovation programme, funded by the DOE and TRIGA International, which began in 2018.

DOE has now agreed to purchase 668 new fuel elements over the next 9 years with an initial procurement of 55 elements, with delivery of the first batch expected "by 2023". The fuel will be used to support 18 TRIGA reactors in the USA and secures a dependable fuel supply for research reactors at Idaho National Laboratory, including the new MARVEL microreactor project, DOE said.

TRIGA - standing for Training, Research, Isotopes General Atomics - reactors are primarily used for student training, research projects and isotope production. Three generations of the pool-type reactor 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.

Research reactors are "imperative" for advancing technologies and building expert competencies and skills, said François Gauché, vice-president of CERCA at Framatome and president of TRIGA International. "With support from the DOE and our partnership with General Atomics, Framatome will make available their expertise in the field of metallic fuels to deliver fuel to the TRIGA facilities in the US and in other countries, facilitating extended operation," he said.

The restart of fabrication assures a source of fresh replacement fuel for all TRIGA reactors, Amory Quinn, vice president of General Atomics, said. "It guarantees that research and learning capability provided by the TRIGA reactor will continue for the foreseeable future at certain institutes of higher learning."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News