China begins testing ATF fuel

28 January 2019

China General Nuclear (CGN) has started irradiation testing of a 2SF PI-A ATF prototype accident-tolerant fuel rod in the China Mianyang Research Reactor on the Nuclear Physics campus of Institute of Nuclear Physics & Chemistry in Mianyang city, Sichuan Province.

CGN said a fuel rod was loaded into the reactor on 20 January, supervised by the Chinese Institute of Nuclear Physics & Chemistry, the China Academy of Engineering Physics and the China Guangdong Nuclear Research Institute. CGN said the test would provide “strong support for post-computation modelling and pilot rod loading, which is of great value”.

CGN was assigned to lead China’s ATF research and development programme in 2015 and brought together a national team committed R&D to set up a nuclear fuel industrial alliance. This team included the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the China Academy of Engineering Physics, Tsinghua University and Xian Jiaotong University.  It took three years to complete the conceptual design of the accident-tolerant fuel and make a preliminary evaluation of its safety benefits under accident conditions.

Several types of nuclear fuel cladding and pellets with enhanced accident tolerance have been developed by the Chinese team for use in light water reactors. These include coated zirconium alloy, iron-chromium-aluminium alloys, coated molybdenum alloy, silicon carbide claddings, as well as high thermal conductivity uranium-oxide pellets. Neutron irradiation testing of candidate materials for ATF began in December 2017. Since then, CGN has focused on developing fuel models and their application. CGN said it would "strive to meet the requirements for commercial reactor applications of ATF components within five years". It added that the new fuel “will be used to replace fuel in the nuclear power plants now in operation and help to design the fourth generation or even more advanced nuclear power system”.  

ATF fuel designs are also under development in Europe, Japan, the USA and Russia. Framatome, Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF) and Westinghouse are working with the US Department of Energy (DOE) to commercialise their ATF concepts by 2025, while Russian fuel company TVEL plans to offer its ATF fuel to customers by the early 2020s.

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