Guest post by Jeff Reed, AREVA NP US EATF Program Manager

I would like to take a few minutes to provide an update on where AREVA NP is in our research and development of the next evolution of nuclear fuel – our Enhanced Accident Tolerant Fuel (EATF) program.

Over the past few months, we have reached several milestones in the drive to place lead fuel rods (LFR) into a U.S. commercial reactor in early 2019. In July, we signed a contract with Southern Nuclear to insert our GAIA pressurized water reactor (PWR) lead fuel assemblies with chromia-enhanced pellets and chromium-coated cladding for full-scale testing in a U.S. reactor.

In August, we performed visual inspections on chromium-coated rodlets (about six inches in length) that were loaded in the reactor pool of a European nuclear power plant. The visual inspections of the rodlets confirmed, as expected, performance with excellent adhesion of the coating and very little oxidation.

Recently, we completed another milestone as we produced our first full-length fuel cladding coated with chromium. The coating was performed on our prototype equipment in France and puts us ahead of schedule in our commitment to Southern Nuclear. While optimization of the process is still ongoing, excellent progress is being made.

We also successfully manufactured chromia-enhanced pellets at our Richland, Wash., fuel manufacturing facility and inserted those pellets into chromium-coated rodlets that have been shipped to Idaho National Laboratory for further irradiation testing. They will be the first complete combined (cladding and pellets together) EATF concept rod in the world to be irradiated under PWR conditions. Initial post-irradiation and hot cell examinations are scheduled to start in 2019.

Following irradiation, the rodlets are scheduled to undergo transient testing at the laboratory’s Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT). Additionally, the AREVA NP team is working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to design and fabricate chromium-coated cladding test specimens to be irradiated in the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) test facility in late 2017 or in 2018.

As we continue driving forward in 2018 to provide increased safety and performance to our customers, we anticipate an increasing supply of lead test rods with chromia-enhanced pellets and chromium-coated cladding for irradiation in other commercial reactors and test facilities.

With each milestone achieved along this journey comes excitement and sense of accomplishment for the AREVA NP team, knowing we are developing a technology and a product that will advance the nuclear industry.