US-based BWX Technologies (BWXT) announced that it had been awarded a $4.9 million contract amendment by Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) to manufacture TRISO (TRIstructural-ISOtropic) nuclear fuel. BEA manages Idaho National Laboratory on behalf of the Department of Energy.

The award amends a competitively bid base award announced in July 2020 and brings the overall contract value to $31.2 million. The initial award funded expansion of BWXT’s TRISO manufacturing capacity and upgrades to the existing systems in support of anticipated fuel needs for both the Department of Defense (DoD) and NASA. The project is jointly funded by the DoD Operational Energy Capabilities Improvement Fund Office and NASA, with overall programme management provided by the DoD Strategic Capabilities Office.  

Under the terms of the amendment, BWXT subsidiary Nuclear Operations Group will manufacture a quantity of natural uranium TRISO particles and demonstrate those operations on a production schedule. “We are excited and confident about the growing market for TRISO and specialty fuels, and with our third TRISO fuel production contract since the spring of 2020, we believe that confidence is being validated,” said Joel Duling, BWXT Nuclear Operations Group President. “We are uniquely positioned to capture additional work in fueling, designing and manufacturing microreactors.”

TRISO refers to a specific design of uranium nuclear reactor fuel. TRIstructural refers to the layers of coatings surrounding the uranium fuel, and ISOtropic refers to the coatings having uniform materials characteristics in all directions so that fission products are retained.

BWXT is the only US company to manufacture irradiation-tested uranium oxycarbide TRISO fuel using production-scale equipment. Its TRISO production facility is currently licensed to produce this type of High Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel, which is undergoing validation in a series of experiments at Idaho National Laboratory at their Advanced Test Reactor under the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor programme. BWXT is also designing TRISO-fuelled microreactors using previously announced funding from the Department of Energy and DoD.