Framatome is partnering with General Atomics to study the use of silicon carbide in boiling water reactor channel boxes.
The research is being carried out as part of Framatome's PROtect enhanced accident tolerant fuel (EATF) programme.
The collaboration will see Framatome and General Atomics test silicon-carbide materials for fuel channel applications, which will reduce the amount of zirconium metal in BWR fuel by around 40%.
"Silicon carbide can replace zirconium alloys without having an adverse impact on fuel efficiency," Framatome said in a statement.
"At the same time, it provides substantial temperature and oxidation resistance to significantly reduce the amount of hydrogen that could be generated in the unlikely event of a severe accident," it added.
The first phase of the collaboration will focus on the feasibility of using silicon carbide in channel-box applications through thermo-mechanical and corrosion testing.
The longer-term goal is to demonstrate the irradiation of a full-length channel box in support of licensing and commercialisation.
"We are excited about the opportunity to work with Framatome and explore new applications for our SiGA silicon-carbide composite,” said Jeff Quintenz, senior vice president at General Atomics Energy Group.
"We look forward to bringing this important product to market, helping improve the performance and economics of reactors around the world.”
SiGA is a ceramic material reinforced with flexible silicon carbide (SiC) fibres. It was originally developed for use in GA's Energy Multiplier Module (EM2) advanced reactor but has broad applications in many current and advanced reactor concepts.
GA believes that SiGA channel boxes could offer improved economic benefits and longer lifetimes due to their enhanced resistance to irradiation, superior high-temperature performance, and improved safety margin.
The channel box in a BWR surrounds the fuel rods and fuel assemblies for structural stability. It also directs water over the fuel rods to ensure efficient cooling and heat transfer.
Framatome is one of three nuclear fuel vendors working with the US Department of Energy to develop enhanced accident tolerant nuclear fuel.
Framatome said support from the US DOE has allowed Framatome to deploy EATF technologies "significantly ahead of its initial 2022 target."
Photo: This 16-inch-long model represents a simplified and scaled-down representation of a channel box crafted from SiGA silicon carbide composite. Courtesy General Atomics