The nuclear energy industry has long supported and implemented improvements in the nuclear fuel used in its reactor fleet. These improvements have traditionally been incremental.

Six months after the March 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan, the U.S. Senate gave the Department of Energy renewed funding for research into a project that already had been underway for some years. DOE’s accident tolerant fuels research and development (R&D) project, conducted by its Advanced Fuels Campaign, seeks to develop nuclear fuels that can resist the generation of hydrogen and fuel melting that characterized the Fukushima accident. This is a leap forward in that it focuses on increasing the amount of time before operator action is needed in the event of a loss of cooling.

Working with several partners from industry, the national laboratories and research universities, DOE plans to have prototype advanced technology fuel (ATF) ready for demonstration in U.S. commercial light water reactors by 2022. The industry sees enough promise in the program that it is pushing to introduce “lead test rods” or “lead test assemblies” made from these fuels in their reactors—to gain vital operational data—as early as next year.

“We’re encouraged by the depth of support from the industry on the ATF initiative, and by its desire to move toward wider implementation,” says Joe Grimes, chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute’s ATF working group. Grimes also is the Tennessee Valley Authority’s executive vice president, generation.

View the full story at Nuclear Energy Institute.