The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has awarded grants of £1.5M to the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and £1M to The University of Manchester to fund new capital equipment for nuclear fuel and manufacturing research.
The capital investment made by DECC will establish facilities for the development of nuclear fuels with enhanced accident tolerance. These fuels are being developed to improve resilience during extreme events that might result in a “station blackout”. Whilst enhancing safety performance the fuels are also being designed to improve the economics and efficiency of existing and next generation reactors, including some designs of small modular reactors. In particular fuel materials with higher density and thermal conductivity, such as uranium nitrides and silicides, are being considered as potential replacements for uranium oxide.
Through this investment, equipment will be installed at the NNL Preston Laboratory, including a purpose built rig to enable studies of the reaction between uranium hexafluoride and silicon as well as an arc melter for fabrication of uranium based intermetallic compounds. An inert glovebox fuel line will also be established containing grinding and milling equipment, a press and furnace, to enable pellet fabrication suitable for use in test reactor irradiations. NNL are already collaborating through a US Department of Energy, Westinghouse-led consortium to produce uranium silicide fuel pellets for irradiation in test reactors in the US and Norway. The development of this new capability will allow the scalability of manufacturing processes to be assessed as well as providing a test bed for the investigation of promising advanced fuel fabrication techniques, such as spark plasma sintering and additive manufacturing. Facilities are also being developed to characterise novel accident tolerant fuel materials, including laser flash analysis to measure thermal diffusivity, dilatometry and trace impurity analysis.
Access to the equipment will be available to researchers from outside the NNL through funded research programmes facilitated by the Nuclear Fuel Centre of Excellence (NFCE) and stakeholders including Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (NIRAB) and the National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF).