Innovative fuels for nuclear power

Why is this gap important?

Fuel design improvements can offer additional benefits such as enhanced performance and increased safety margins.

Innovative fuels may incorporate new materials and designs for cladding and fuel pellets. Testing in experimental reactors and validation in power reactors are needed before such fuels can be licensed.

Technology solutions

Current status: TRL 4. Efforts are under way in several countries (United States, Russia, China, France and other European countries) and within international research projects involving fuel vendors, utilities and research organisations, to advance the design and validation of innovative fuels, including accident-tolerant fuels (ATFs). The US DOE confirmed funding to develop and license efforts in this area, with the objective of having NRC approval for initial partial core loadings into commercial nuclear power plants in the mid-2020s.

In April 2019, the first complete ATF assemblies were installed for testing at the Vogtle 2 nuclear reactor in the United States. Plans are also under way to test ATFs in research reactors in Russia and China.

Innovative fuels for nuclear power Readiness level:

Colored bars represent the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of each technology. Learn more about TRLs

What are the leading initiatives?

  • United States: the DOE is providing support to three fuel vendors, Framatome, Global Nuclear Fuel and Westinghouse, and current development is for both near- and long-term Accident Tolerant Fuels (ATF) solutions for all types of nuclear power plants.
  • Russian Federation: testing of ATFs designed by the TVEL fuel company is being performed in the MBIR experimental reactor.
  • China: irradiation testing of its own ATF technology has begun.

Recommended actions

Governments

Next 5 years:

  • Provide support for innovative fuel development.
  • Promote international R&D co‑operation to facilitate prototype testing.

Vendors

Next 2-5 years:

  • Complete testing in research reactors and power reactors.

Regulators

Next 10 years:

  • Work with industry to advance licensing of innovative fuels and ATFs.