Richland Areva gets contract for small reactor fuel

A NuScale fuel assembly is put together at the Areva fuel manufacturing plant in Richland.
A NuScale fuel assembly is put together at the Areva fuel manufacturing plant in Richland.

Areva will produce nuclear fuel in Richland for small modular reactors after signing a contract with NuScale Power of Oregon.

It’s the first contract worldwide to produce fuel for the new type of nuclear reactors, say those involved.

“This is a huge win for the Tri-Cities,” said Gary Petersen, a Tri-City Development Council vice president. “It shows we have a future here in small modular reactors regardless of where they go.”

Reactors sold by NuScale would be equipped with pressurized water reactor fuel from the Richland fuel manufacturing plant, said Mike McGough, NuScale’s chief commercial officer. Areva also could supply more fuel as the reactors are reloaded over time.

NuScale is planning to have the first of a possible 12-pack of small reactor modules operating in 2024. The site has not been named, but it is likely to be at the Idaho National Laboratory with Energy Northwest of Richland operating the plant. Power would be used by the Utah Associated Municipal Power System.

NuScale is developing a small reactor with modules that could provide power in increments of 50 megawatts up to a total of 600 megawatts in a single facility. At the maximum size, a facility would have about half the production capacity of Energy Northwest’s full scale nuclear power plant near Richland.

The modules would be small enough and simple enough to be manufactured at a factory and then shipped by truck, rail or barge to communities where they would be operated either in the United States or overseas. As more electricity is needed at each site, more modules would be added.

Areva began working on a fuel design about two years ago at its Lynchburg, Va., site. With the preliminary design completed, fuel rods are being tested at the company’s Richland nuclear fuel fabrication plant. Mechanical and hydraulic testing have been done, with other tests to be conducted, McGough said.

Areva expects to submit test results to NuScale through mid 2016.

“We’re excited to be in on the ground floor,” said Ron Land, manager of Areva’s Richland plant.

The Richland plant’s flexibility means “we basically can build almost any kind of fuel for an existing power plant and it is a good base to develop new designs,” he said.

No new staffing is required now in Richland, with the first fabrication for the proposed Idaho plant still years away.

The technologies of fuel for full scale and small modular reactors have similarities, but the new fuel being developed will be smaller, Land said.

Areva is proposing that each fuel assembly be about six feet long and that refueling occur on a two-year cycle.

NuScale plans to submit a small modular reactor design to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for licensing about 12 months from now, McGough said.

“Areva is a world leader in nuclear fuel and will be a critical part of our supply team,” he said.

TRIDEC is interested in positioning the Tri-Cities to be a site not only for small modular reactor fuel manufacturing, but manufacturing or assembly of the reactors. It sees the Tri-Cities as an ideal location for shipping the reactors overseas to Asia.

The Richland Areva plant already makes the nuclear fuel for 5 percent of the electricity produced by all sources in the United States. It employs about 625 people.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews