Nuclear Fuel Transitions: Higher Burnup, Thorium and More

Nuclear fuel burnup is measured in gigawatt-days per tonne and its potential is proportional to the level of enrichment. Hitherto a limiting factor has been the physical robustness of fuel assemblies, and hence burn-up levels of about 40 GWd/t have required only around 4% enrichment. But with better equipment and fuel assemblies, 55 GWd/t is possible (with 5% enrichment), and 70 GWd/t is in sight, though this would require 6% enrichment. The benefit of this is that operation cycles can be longer – around 24 months – and the number of fuel assemblies discharged as used fuel can be reduced by one third. Associated fuel cycle cost is expected to be reduced by about 20%.

The Nuclear Regulatory agency has approved Optimized ZIRLO fuel which can get 70 Gwd/t burnup

Advanced Precursor Assembly (APA) will soon begin their fourth cycle of operation and will reach burnup levels close to 70 GWD/t when discharged in 2010.

(121 page pdf) Nuclear Energy Agency report on the status of nuclear fuel transition. It lists many competing mainstream options on nuclear fuel. The transition to 70 GWD/t fuel is projected at 2015. Uranium usage will be 20-30% more efficient with a complete transition to 70 GWD/t fuel.


Thorium Power, inc looks to have its fuel validated for 2017-2018 and then installing in current reactors in 2021

Thorium Power, together with their development partners, expect to continue working with regulatory authorities to obtain regulatory clearance for insertion of several lead test assemblies, or LTAs, into an operating VVER-1000 reactor for final demonstration of our VVER SBU fuel technology. The LTA testing in an operating VVER-1000 reactor is expected to extend over for approximately 3 years. They have also performed initial research and testing of a similar seed-and-blanket fuel technology for application in Western pressurized water reactors, or PWR SBU fuel.

There are four groups of companies that collectively fabricate a large majority of the fuel used in the world’s commercial nuclear power plants: Areva, Westinghouse Electric Company, General Electric, and AtomStroyExport/TVEL.

Thorium/uranium nuclear fuel will offer significant advantages over conventional uranium fuel, including: (1) enhanced proliferation resistance of spent fuel, (2) improved reactor safety, (3) significantly reduced volume, weight and long-term radio-toxicity of spent fuel, and (4) cost savings in the back-end operations (spent fuel management) of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Other Nuclear Fuel Technologies: Click on Images for Larger Image

Nuclear Energy Improvement 1990-2006 and 2000 to 2006: More than all Wind Installed Ever
From 1990 to 2006, world nuclear energy capacity rose by 44 GWe (13.5%, due both to net addition of new plants and uprating some established ones) and electricity production rose 757 billion kWh (40%). The relative contributions to this increase were: new construction 36%, uprating 7% and availability increase 57%. The increase over the six years to 2006 (210 TWh) was equal to the output from 30 large new nuclear plants. Yet between 2000 and 2006 there was no net increase in reactor numbers (and only 15 GWe in capacity)

Wind is good and we should build more, but all the wind ever installed is still less than 200 TWh in one year as of 2009.