TUM said the contract, announced by Framatome earlier this week, includes the development of a pilot production line and the production of fuel plates for radiation tests. These tests are a central part of the qualification of the new fuel, especially for research reactors in Europe, TUM said.
The pilot production facility will be set up at Framatome’s new research and development laboratory, in Romans-sur-Isère in southeastern France.
TUM said the first prototype fuel elements are expected to be manufactured in early 2021. If the tests are successful, production could start as early as 2022.
One of the aims of the project is to produce new, low-enriched fuel elements for the research neutron source Heinz Maier-Leibnitz (FRM II) in Garching north of Munich.
TUM said UMo fuel opens up new possibilities for conversion to lower enrichment fuels, not only for FRM II, but for research reactors worldwide
TUM and Framatome are working on the UMo fuel within the framework of European projects in which the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), the research institute Laue-Langevin in Grenoble and the Belgian nuclear research centre (SCK-CEN) are also involved.
“The development of this fuel is a big step forward,” said Peter Müller-Buschbaum, scientific director of the FRM II. “Several international teams have been researching this task for years.”
Francois Gauché, director of the Framatome Romans-sur-Isère laboratory, said: “We are offering research reactors an alternative way to maintain the high neutron flux for research, industry and medicine, while reducing the enrichment of the fuel.”
As soon as this fuel with lower enriched uranium – ideally with an enrichment below 20% – is qualified and industrially available, research reactors such as FRM II can start to convert to the new fuel.