U.S. Nuclear reactors are not known for their fuel
efficiency. At a mere three to four percent burn-up, much of the uranium fuel
is wasted and current reactors produce large amounts of unsightly nuclear
waste. Advanced gas reactors may offer a better choice for the aging U.S.
nuclear power posse.
Working together with the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and the Babcock &
Wilcox Company, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), with funding from the
Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Science, has produced a new fuel for
the high temperatures of advanced gas reactors. In tests conducted at the
Advanced Test Reactor at INL, the fuel reached a nine percent burn-up, a near
three-fold efficiency gain from traditional water-cooled nuclear plant fuel and
halfway to the targeted 16 to 18 percent.
The fuel, produced in the ORNL Materials Science and Technology Division, is
made up of thousands of tiny carbon and silicon carbide coated spheres of
uranium, which are compressed into fuel sticks and loaded into a graphite form.
With growing concerns about nuclear
reactor waste products, skeptical
outlooks for the future of nuclear power and foreign
companies selling mini-plants to U.S. customers, a new, more efficient fuel
made in America is a ray of hope for U.S. nuclear power advocates. Though it
will possibly never be without its own pollution problems, further refinement
and research into fission reactors may yield a very efficient and comparatively
clean energy generation model.