US-based X Energy has been awarded $148.5m in tax credit for the construction by its wholly-owned subsidiary, TRISO-X, of a first-of-a-kind advanced nuclear fuel fabrication facility (TX-1) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The award is funded by the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and is part of the Qualifying Advanced Energy Project Tax Credit programme jointly administered by the US Department of Energy (DOE), Department of the Treasury, and Internal Revenue Service.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has described TRISO (TRIstructural-ISOtropic) particle fuel as “the most robust nuclear fuel on the planet”. TRISO fuel particles have a kernel of enriched uranium oxycarbide, encased in carbon and ceramic layers. DOE selected X-energy in 2020 for their Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to receive up to $1.2bn of federal cost-shared funding to develop, license, build, and demonstrate operational advanced reactors and advanced nuclear fuel fabrication by the end of the decade. TRISO-X has leased research and laboratory space at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) campus in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, since 2016. TRISO-X broke ground in 2022 in Oak Ridge on its commercial-sale Fuel Fabrication Facility, which is expected to be fully operational in 2025.

X-energy’s investment in TX-1 is expected to create approximately 400 permanent jobs and 475 construction jobs. The 215,000-square-foot TX-1 fuel fabrication facility is designed to produce up to 714,000 TRISO fuel pebbles a year along with other nuclear fuel products. The TRISO-X campus is situated on land that was formerly part of ORNL and is located within the Horizon Centre Industrial Park. The 110-acre site was part of a tract released in 1996 for private development to help diversify the region’s economic base. TRISO-X acquired the campus from the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board in 2022.

“This award is not just an investment in our technology and innovations, it’s a massive step forward for building the supply chain to advance the next generation of nuclear energy,” said X-energy CEO, J Clay Sell. “Strengthening energy security here and around the world requires expanding secure, domestic manufacturing capabilities across the energy sector.”

TRISO-X has already requested a 40-year licence from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to possess and use special nuclear material to manufacture advanced nuclear fuel. Its application was submitted and accepted by NRC in 2022.The Commission says the review is 45% complete.

DOE’s ARDP is providing support for the development of TX-1, and the initial TRISO-X nuclear fuel produced in Oak Ridge will be used for the project. A symbolic ground-breaking ceremony for the TX-1 took place in 2022. ARDP is also supporting the initial deployment of X-energy’s Xe-100 advanced small modular reactor at Dow’s Seadrift, Texas facility. X-energy says it is expected to be the first grid-scale advanced nuclear reactor deployed to serve an industrial site in North America.

TRISO President Dr Pete Pappano said X-energy has 40 employees at five locations, two of which are operating facilities: the TRISO-X Pilot Facility at ORNL and the TRISO-X Research & Development Center located in the Centrus Technology Manufacturing Center. The TRISO-X Pilot Facility operates via a public-private partnership and produces kilogram quantities of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel. The TRISO-X Research & Development Center operates inside the Centrus Technology Manufacturing Center and will be used to train operators for the commercial fuel facility.

Image: A rendering of X-energy's fuel fabrication facility planned for construction in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (courtesy of X-energy)