NANO plans fuel fabrication plant at Idaho National Laboratory

25 August 2023

US-based microreactor developer NANO Nuclear Energy has started due diligence to site a nuclear fuel fabrication facility at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). NANO said its submission to the US Department of Energy (DOE) responds to questions posed by DOE. It also includes a proposed memorandum of understanding on site selection for the facility, which would be integrated with INL facilities. According to NANO, the facility could produce fuel for INL as well for NANO Nuclear and other potential customers.

"Locating its fuel manufacturing facilities at INL would allow NANO Nuclear to avoid transporting nuclear material over public roads, which initial planning shows will save considerable time and cost," the company said. "NANO Nuclear's DOE submission contemplates a Nuclear Regulatory Commission-licensed facility that can produce a variety of fuel types catering to a range of customers as soon as 2027." NANO signed a Strategic Partnership Project Agreement with INL in April.

In March, NANO announced development of ODIN, its second proprietary advanced micro nuclear reactor design, a low-pressure coolant reactor. This followed earlier announcements about its ZEUS advanced nuclear micro reactor designed to be modular and to connect with local power grids or power systems. The company website has extensive information on the global potential for nuclear in general and small reactors in particular. However, it has no detailed information on the technology or reactor-type planned for either ZEUS or ODIN.

NANO says Zeus features a fully solid core and will to fit inside a standard ISO shipping container. Heat removal is through thermal conduction, eliminating the need for coolant and pumps. Odin it will use a unique reactivity control system design, minimising the number of moving parts, and will use natural convection of coolant for heat transfer. It designed to use conventional sintered pellet UO2 fuel with up to 20% uranium-235 enrichment “helping to minimise the required development and testing programme schedule and costs”.

In February, NANO also established a subsidiary, HALEU Energy Fuel. The purpose of the new company is “to develop, improve, and accelerate the domestic production of High-Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) to meet the growing demand for the fuel required to power advanced nuclear reactors. HALEU fuel, enriched to between 5% and 20% with uranium-235, is needed for many advanced nuclear reactors under development. The industry anticipates it may need nearly 600 tonnes of HALEU by 2030.

The company says there is a "national capability gap" in the USA with respect to fuel fabrication for the next generation of microreactors and advanced nuclear reactors. "As the company began planning for its anticipated reactor business, securing fuel for its Zeus and Odin reactors became a principal priority. The capability gap presented the company with an opportunity to secure its own fuel supply while satisfying a national demand and creating new business opportunities."

Clearly the relationship with INL is important. NANO founder, executive chairman & president Jay Jiang Yu described the submission and collaboration with INL are a "big step forward" for the company. "We believe that our Zeus and Odin microreactors represent the leading edge of advanced nuclear microreactor technology,” he said. He added: “Pairing this with the ability to focus on our own fuel in collaboration with the nation’s pre-eminent nuclear laboratory would be key vertical integration for our company that would both propel our own reactor business and create very promising additional business opportunities for NANO Nuclear."


Image: The Zeus microreactor (courtesy of NANO Energy)

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