France’s Framatome and US-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) are forming a joint venture to manufacture Tri-structural Isotropic (TRISO) particles and USNC’s Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated (FCM) fuel. Framatome and USNC have signed a non-binding Heads of Terms Agreement to integrate their complementary resources to bring commercially viable fuel to market for advanced reactor designs.
USNC, headquartered in Seattle, is developing a Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR) and produces FMC nuclear fuel based on TRISO fuel particles. FCM fuel enhances safety through proprietary technology to embed TRISO particles in a silicon carbide matrix. In August 2022, USNC announced the opening of its Pilot Fuel Manufacturing (PFM) facility in Oak Ridge at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), to produce the first fuel for testing and qualification for use in its MMR.
The PFM contains full scale production equipment for TRISO particles, and USNC’s FCM Fuel. The privately owned facility is located on the Manhattan Project site previously occupied by the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant. USNC produced its first uranium bearing TRISO particles earlier in 2022. PFM engineers employ additive manufacturing (3D printing) to fabricate FCM fuel. “The modular production lines for TRISO particles and FCM fuel, already demonstrated at scale at the PFM facility, are rapidly repeated to increase capacity to meet growing demand for the MMR and advanced reactor technologies more broadly,” USNC notes.
The company has active MMR deployment projects at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (Chalk River) with Ontario Power Generation and at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The project at Chalk River is targeting 2026 for first power, with the UIUC project targeted for first power the following year.
USNC says its vertical integration “captures the entire value chain, from fuel manufacturing to reactor construction and operation, maximises competitive advantage and reduces risk”. Ala Alzaben, senior vice president for North America Fuel at Framatome says: “Ultra Safe Nuclear is a pioneer in the manufacture of both TRISO-based nuclear fuels and micro reactors, both of which contribute to a clear and attainable path toward a low carbon future.”
USNC CEO Francesco Venneri say: “Framatome is an important strategic partner in our quest, and this move is a crucial step towards our vision of socially and environmentally responsible zero-carbon nuclear power.” Framatome was selected as a partner “as a result of thorough review and due diligence”, says USNC executive vice president Kurt Terrani. “Not only does Framatome have a long history of safely and economically manufacturing nuclear fuels, the company’s deep experience in manufacturing will be key to our success in bringing commercial TRISO and FCM fuel forms to market in rapid fashion.”
The joint venture expects to begin manufacturing TRISO particles and FCM fuel in late 2025. TRISO fuel production capacity will be used in the manufacture of USNC’s FCM fuel and available to the broader commercial market. The partners have developed concrete plans to support rapid expansion to meet demand growth in the US and global markets.
Image: FCM fuel pellet (courtesy of USNC)