The National Nuclear Security Administration is leading an effort to develop and qualify a new fuel that will allow high-performance research reactors in the United States that currently use highly enriched uranium to be converted to reactors that use low-enriched uranium fuel.
The research reactors that could be converted include the High Flux Isotope Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The goal is to develop a fuel that cannot be used in a nuclear weapon. The research reactors perform unique science and are a critical part of the U.S. nuclear complex, but all together, they use 200 kilograms of highly enriched uranium each year. That’s enough material for at least eight weapons, according to the NNSA.
On Wednesday, the NNSA said it has presented the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission with a preliminary report on uranium-molybdenum (U-Mo) monolithic fuel. The report contains data about the performance of the new fuel in a reactor and how it holds up under a variety of conditions.
“The report will help the NRC understand the science that will support converting these reactors to low-enriched uranium fuel,” said Jessica Halse, associate assistant deputy administrator for NNSA’s Material Management and Minimization program. “Once they’ve read it, the regulators can ask NNSA questions that will help to finalize future tests of the fuel and complete the final Fuel Qualification Report.”
Due to their challenging operating conditions, converting the high-performance research reactors from highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel is not easy, the NNSA said in a press release. The process could take many years, but developing a new LEU fuel is essential to ensuring optimal performance, the NNSA said.
“This report is a notable achievement in the effort to switch the six HEU-fueled high-performance research reactors in the United States to LEU, and marks a key milestone in NNSA’s program to develop a fuel that cannot be used in a nuclear weapon,” said the NNSA, a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy.
When the final report is approved by the NRC, the individual reactors can submit documentation to the NRC demonstrating that the new fuel performs safely in their specific conditions. This is the final step before the reactors convert to LEU fuel.
Once the NRC qualifies this new fuel, it will be used to convert some of the most innovative and critical reactors in the United States.
The six U.S. high-performance research reactors pending conversion include:
- Advanced Test Reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho
- Advanced Test Reactor Critical Assembly at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho
- High Flux Isotope Reactor at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology Reactor in Cambridge, Massachusetts
- National Bureau of Standards Reactor in Gaithersburg, Maryland
- University of Missouri Research Reactor in Columbia, Missouri
As part of its vital nuclear nonproliferation effort, NNSA works with civilian research reactors and medical isotope production facilities domestically and internationally to minimize, and, when possible, eliminate weapons-usable nuclear material around the world, the press release said.
Learn about NNSA’s Material Management and Minimization mission.
See the NNSA press release here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
Do you appreciate this story or our work in general? If so, please consider a monthly subscription to Oak Ridge Today. See our Subscribe page here. Thank you for reading Oak Ridge Today.
Copyright 2017 Oak Ridge Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.