Westinghouse Electric Company on Friday said it was partnering with General Atomics to produce an “accident-tolerant” nuclear reactor fuel that would use a ceramic matrix composite cladding that promises to provide enhanced safety characteristics over the currently established metal cladding.
“The new cladding has an engineered construction that uses silicon carbide (SiC) material reinforced with flexible SiC fiber in much the same way that steel rebar reinforces concrete,” the companies said in a statement.
The new fuel product, called EnCore, is reportedly extremely hard and durable, able to tolerate “the harshest reactor conditions,” the companies said.
Specifically, the CiS cladding allows the fuel rods to hold up under temperatures “well over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit – more than twice what can be sustained by metal cladding used in current reactor cores,” the companies said.
The new cladding, moreover, is “much more chemically stable, virtually eliminating the risk of generating potentially explosive hydrogen during loss-of-cooling accidents,” according to the statement.
These attributes answer to long-established fears of a radioactivity released during a loss-of-cooling accident, but also to the incident-specific fears that arose from the Fukushima Daiichi Generating Station accident in March 2011 in which hydrogen build up explosions in reactor buildings greatly contributed to the radioactivity risk associated with that disaster and added multiple levels of difficulty to the cleanup efforts now underway.
Vice President of Nuclear Technologies and Materials for General Atomics Dr. Christina Back noted the company's dedication to producing advanced materials that “help the nuclear industry drive down costs and deliver significant safety benefits.”
“GA also strongly appreciates the Department of Energy's support of the Accident Tolerant Fuel (ATF) program and the support the program has received from the U.S. Congress. GA's engineered SiC-based material will eliminate or greatly mitigate the issues that can occur with metal cladding during accidents,” the companies said.
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