The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has accepted an application from TRISO-X, a subsidiary of X-Energy Reactor Company, for a fuel fabrication facility that will use high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU). Anticipating the decision, Triso-X began construction of the facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in October. The Triso-X Fuel Fabrication Facility (TF3) is expected to create over 400 jobs and attract investments of approximately $300 million. TF3 is set to be up and running by 2025.
In a letter to TRISO-X, the NRC said the agency had “determined that the application provides sufficient information to proceed with a detailed technical review” and further “30 months for the review to be completed by June 2025″. established the schedule.”
Tristructural Isotropic (TRISO) fuel consists of three layers of carbon and ceramic materials that surround kernels or balls of high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel. The coatings have similar characteristics in all directions. The fuel particles, each the size of a poppy seed, are enriched to levels four times higher than the fuel used in most commercial nuclear reactors today. The coatings retain fission products, giving each particle its own containment system. The DOE states that TrisO is the “strongest nuclear fuel on Earth”.
In 2020, DOE selected X-Energy for its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to receive up to $1.2 billion in federal cost-share funding to develop, license, build and demonstrate operational advanced reactors by the end of the decade . TRISO-X nuclear fuel produced at Oak Ridge TF3 will be used in Xe-Energy’s Xe-100 high-temperature gas reactors, which are expected to be operational by 2028. Since 2016, TRISO-X has operated a pilot-scale nuclear fuel manufacturing facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to further develop its TRISO-X fuel and support the XE-100 reactor design.
Earlier this year Dr. Kathryn Huff, Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy, said, “Triso-X will be the nation’s first commercial-scale facility dedicated to fueling reactors that require high-assay low-enrichment uranium Triso particles.” it occurs.” “It is a job creator and an advanced reactor enabler that will help fuel the transition to a net-zero economy.”
However, development of TrisO fuels also continues at several US national laboratories. Earlier in December, BWX Technologies (BWXT) began production of TrisO nuclear fuel for the first US microreactor (Project Pele). Under a $37 million award from Idaho National Laboratory (INL), BWXT will build additional reactors for NASA and a core for Project Pele, TRISO fuel for coated particle fuel. The fuel will be blended from HALEU’s US government stockpile and manufactured into TRISO fuel at BWXT’s facility in Lynchburg, Virginia. The BWXT facilities are the only private US facilities licensed to hold and process highly enriched uranium.
BWXT has expanded its specialty coated fuel production manufacturing capability through previously announced awards funded by the Department of Defense (DOD) Operational Energy Capabilities Improvement Fund Office and NASA and program management provided by DOD’s Strategic Capabilities Office.
Also in December, US-based Kairos Power signed an agreement to produce TRISO fuel pebbles for the Hermes demonstration reactor at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) Low Enriched Fuel Fabrication Facility (LEFFF) in New Mexico. The partnership with Los Alamos is facilitated by the laboratory’s proximity to Kairos Power’s test and manufacturing facility in Albuquerque.
In August, the Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) announced the opening of its Pilot Fuel Manufacturing (PFM) facility in Oak Ridge, located in the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), to produce its first fuel to be tested and qualified for use. To be. Micro Modular Reactor (MMR). The PFM includes full-scale production equipment for TrisO particles and UNSC’s FCM fuel. The privately owned facility is located on the Manhattan Project site previously occupied by the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The USNC produced its first uranium-rich TRISO particles earlier this year.
Nine of the ten advanced reactor designs selected for funding under the ARDP, including two planned demonstration reactors – TerraPower’s Natrium and X-Energy’s XE-100 high-temperature gas-cooled reactor – will rely on HALEU, which is used to generate uranium. enriched to about 20%—compared to the 5% used in 235 power reactors. However, the US is facing problems as domestic production is limited and previous supplies from Russia are no longer available.
Congress authorized the HALEU Availability Program in 2020 and eventually appropriated $45 million to “accelerate” the HALEU fuel-processing capability. The Inflation Reduction Act added an additional $700 million and DOE has also established a HALEU consortium to support activities to secure the domestic supply of fuel. In December, DOE also signed a contract with American Centrifuge Operating (ACO), a subsidiary of Centrus Energy, for the lead production of HALEU at a facility leased from DOE in Piketon, Ohio. However, Centrus Energy Corp is expected to produce less than 1 metric ton by 2023. The lack of HALEU has caused TerraPower to postpone its Natrium plans for two years. It remains to be seen whether the Triso projects will be affected or not.
Image: Artist’s rendering of the Triso-X fuel manufacturing facility in Oak Ridge, TN, USA (Courtesy of the US Department of Energy)