In another significant boost to commercial deployment of accident-tolerant fuel (ATF) at existing nuclear reactors, the first 18-month fuel cycle test of Framatome’s GAIA Enhanced Accident Tolerant Fuel (EATF) at Southern Co.’s Vogtle 2 has “demonstrated expected results and excellent performance,” Framatome said on Feb. 2.

Southern Nuclear installed four GAIA lead fuel assemblies (LFAs) containing EATF, both pellets and cladding, at Vogtle 2 in the spring of 2019, and plant experts removed the LFAs during a refueling outage in August 2020. Inspections have confirmed the EATF technology “performs to the industry’s highest standards,” Lionel Gaiffe, senior executive vice president with Framatome’s Fuel Business Unit, said on Tuesday. The trial is the first of three planned 18-month cycles of operation for the LFAs. “More detailed inspections and measurements are planned following the remaining two fuel cycles,” Framatome said.

The finding is a major milestone for the French nuclear technology giant, which is working to commercialize a near-term ATF design that involves chromium-coated zirconium alloy cladding with chromia (Cr2O3)–doped uranium oxide (UO2) fuel. The company is in tandem also developing silicon carbide cladding concepts. Framatome, which developed its GAIA EATF concept as part of its PROtect program and is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) EATF program, is targeting an aggressive timeframe to deploy EATF in the U.S. by 2022.

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