TRIGA International, a joint venture between France’s Framatome and US General Atomics, has manufactured its first fuel element in more than 10 years. The fuel was fabricated at Framatome’s recently restored manufacturing facility at Romans-sur-Isère in France. The company completed a three-year $80m renovation project in 2021 funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and TRIGA International to restart its fuel production. During the renovation, DOE provided 76 lightly used TRIGA fuel elements to US research reactors to help meet immediate needs.
Framatome and General Atomics created the TRIGA International joint venture in 1995 to market TRIGA fuel elements manufactured at Romans. Framatome subsidiary CERCA is the world’s only manufacturer and supplier of uranium-zirconium hydride fuel for use in TRIGA type research reactors.
In February 2022, the DOE agreed a nine-year contract with TRIGA International to secure new TRIGA fuel elements. It agreed to purchase 668 new fuel elements over the next nine years with an initial procurement of 55. The fuel will be used to support US university research reactors and also for a microreactor nuclear test platform (Marvel) being developed at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The first batch of fuel is expected to be shipped to the USA this summer. It should provide a reliable fuel supply for TRIGA reactors worldwide for the first time since 2012.
Training and research reactors play a significant role in the evolution of nuclear energy and in particular in the development of young generations of nuclear engineers and researchers,” said TRIGA International President & Vice President of CERCA at Framatome, François Gauché. Dr Kathryn Huff, US Assistant Secretary for Nuclear said: “A dependable fuel supply for the world’s university research reactors enables our future nuclear energy professionals to receive the hands-on experiences they need to help propel nuclear energy forward.”
TRIGA stands for Training, Research, Isotopes General Atomics. TRIGA pool-type reactors operate at thermal power levels from less than 0.1 to 16 MW, and are pulsed to 22,000 MW. They are used for student training, research projects and isotope production. Three generations have been built worldwide since 1960 comprising some 66 TRIGA reactors with 38 reactors still in operation. These include 17 in the USA. DOE’s Research Reactor Infrastructure programme within the Office of Nuclear Energy provides and coordinates the nuclear fuel elements provided to 12 of those TRIGA research reactors located at US universities.
Framatome said it is now considering TRIGA-type uranium-zirconium hydride fuel designs for new applications as their unique properties can be easily transitioned to non-TRIGA plants such as small modular, micro or advanced reactors.
Image: TRIGA International team showcases first fabricated TRIGA fuel element in 10 years (courtesy of Framatome)