Ribbon cutting at the fuel fabrication siteSeattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) has opened its Pilot Fuel Manufacturing (PFM) facility in Oak Ridge, at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP). UNSC said the facility is leveraging the region’s specialised workforce to produce the first fuel for testing and qualification for use in the company’s advanced Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) Energy System.

Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (TN-03), Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dr. Kathryn Huff, and representatives from Senator Marsha Blackburn’s and Bill Hagerty’s office toured the PFM on the eve of commencing radiological operations.

The PFM facility uses the same production-scale modules for manufacturing TRISO (TRistructural ISOtropic) coated fuel particles and the company’s patented Fully Ceramic-Microencapsulated (FCM) fuel that will go into USNC’s future commercial fuel manufacturing factory. PFM is a radiological facility capable of producing FCM for testing and qualification in multiple-kilogram quantities. In the process, PFM will also codify and demonstrate the manufacturing modules that will be used in the company’s commercial fuel manufacturing factory, USNC said.

The fuel manufacturing processes and modules are based on nuclear fuels research and development efforts of the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the Office of Nuclear Energy (NE). The 3D printing process for manufacturing refractory ceramic carbides was developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and licensed by USNC for use in the PFM production line. “It’s great to see technology developed at ORNL being used by industry – tech transfer is an important role that the national labs play,” said ORNL Associate Laboratory Director for Fusion and Fission Energy and Science Dr Kathryn A.McCarthy.

Dr Kathryn Huff, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at DOE said she was impressed by the project. “I think it’s an indication of how clearly important this mission is going to be and what part this facility will play in the future of our nuclear energy as we transform this nation into a factory fighting the calamity of climate change,” she noted.

“With this facility, Ultra Safe Nuclear moves one-step closer to the commercialisation of its fuel production,” stated USNC CEO Dr Francesco Venneri. “The market is ready. The nation is ready. The world is ready. Ultra Safe Nuclear is proud to be leading the way with the Department of Energy, with Oak Ridge, and with all our partners every step of the way.”

USNC said it had designed and constructed its privately funded facility in less than 12 months. The PFM facility will produce the USA’s first private sector TRISO and FCM fuel. The project has already created more than 40 highly skilled jobs.

USNC is currently demonstrating MMR Energy Systems at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in partnership with Ontario Power Generation and at the University of Illinois, and has started new projects to further deploy its technology in the USA, Canada, and Europe.