Hanford

Areva plant in Richland to make nuclear fuel that’s better in emergencies

Nuclear fuel rods sit on a vibratory rod loading table at the Areva manufacturing plant in Richland.
Nuclear fuel rods sit on a vibratory rod loading table at the Areva manufacturing plant in Richland. Tri-City Herald file

The Areva plant in Richland will begin manufacturing newly developed advanced nuclear fuel assemblies that allow operators more time to respond in emergencies.

The plant will start manufacturing the fuel later this year, to be loaded into one of the units at Georgia’s Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in the spring of 2019.

Areva developed the fuel through the Department of Energy’s Enhanced Accident Tolerant Fuel program, an initiative started after the 2011 Fukushima, Japan, nuclear disaster.

Congress provided funding to develop fuels that can tolerate loss of active in cooling in the reactor core for much longer while maintaining of improving fuel perfomance during normal operations.

“This game-changing technology is not a small step, but a leap for our industry,” said John Williams, nuclear fuel director for Southern Nuclear Operationg Co., which operates the Georgia plant. Initially four test assembles will be added.

The fuel pellets to be manufactured in Richland will have chromia additions, providing a higher density and helping reduce fission gases if a reactor loses cooling. Chromium coating also will be added to fuel rod cladding.

Areva also recently announced $560 million in fuel contracts to supply four different nuclear energy facilities starting in 2020. The fuel will be fabricated at Areva’s plant on Horn Rapids Road.

While the orders will not create new jobs, it will mean continued work for the plant’s approximately 550 workers. The nuclear fuel manufactured at the plant creates about 5 percent of the nation’s energy.

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