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GNF Teams Up For Fuel That NASA, The Military Could Use

By Cece Nunn, posted Nov 6, 2019
Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF) and a Maryland-based firm today announced a collaboration to produce a low-cost, high-quality type of nuclear fuel that can be used by the military and NASA.

It's called TRi-structural ISOtropic (TRISO) particle nuclear fuel.

The companies, Wilmington-based GNF and X-energy, have signed a teaming agreement for the purpose of developing High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) TRISO fuel to potentially supply the U.S. Department of Defense for micro-reactors and NASA for its nuclear thermal propulsion requirements.

“TRISO is a robust fuel form well suited for military and space applications,” said Clay Sell, X-energy CEO, in the release. “The extremely high and unnecessary cost of working with HALEU in a Category I NRC facility has, in the past, limited TRISO’s economic viability in the marketplace. Utilizing X-energy’s already operational state-of-the-art equipment in GNF’s licensed facility changes the dynamic for TRISO-fueled reactor deployment.”

Jay Wileman, president and CEO of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, said in the release, “Combining X-energy’s technical knowledge and experience as the only current producer of TRISO fuel and GNF’s licensed operating facility and a half-century of commercial fuel experience and leadership make this a formidable team.”

By leveraging X-energy’s currently operating commercial-scale TRISO production equipment and GNF’s NRC-licensed fuel fabrication facility in Wilmington, the teaming arrangement is expected to produce TRISO fuel "of significantly higher quality and at costs that are substantially lower than other potential manufacturers," the release stated.

Explaining the process, the release stated that TRISO coated fuels start with a uranium kernel, which is coated with three layers of pyrolytic carbon and one layer of silicon carbide.

These coatings encapsulate all product radionuclei under all operating conditions. X-energy is currently manufacturing TRISO particles at a pilot fuel facility located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
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