Korea to foray into global nuclear fuel market with plate-type fuel innovation

2023.11.21 15:02:02 | 2023.11.21 16:19:41

[Courtesy of KAERI]이미지 확대

[Courtesy of KAERI]

South Korea is set to advance into global research nuclear reactor fuel markets with its homegrown plate-type fuel technology.

The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) said Monday that it recently kicked off the final phase of verification for its plate-type uranium silicide fuel for research reactors, based on high-density low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel production technology.

A successful completion of the final verification stage, which ends in 2025, would open the door for Korea to bring its homegrown research reactor to the global markets.

The plate-type LEU fuel with high density represents a third-generation fuel characterized by its elevated uranium density and reduced enrichment levels.

In most cases, high-power research reactors use highly enriched uranium. However, global nuclear nonproliferation initiatives have promoted broader use of fuels with higher uranium density and lower enrichment. South Korea, the U.S., and France are the only nations capable of manufacturing research reactor fuel that meets such criteria.

Korea’s nuclear fuel, composed of low-enriched uranium silicide plates, boasts exceptional reliability compared to others utilizing crushed powder, as the country’s technology involves centrifugal spray nuclear fuel powder. This process melts uranium silicide in a vacuum at temperatures up to 2000 degrees Celsius, then sprays the melted substance onto a high-speed rotating disk, leveraging centrifugal force to produce finely uniform powders on a large scale.

The LEU plate nuclear fuel from Korea has completed the initial stage of performance verification to confirm radiation safety and the fuel’s resilience under extreme conditions.

The second phase will assess the fuel’s combustion performance in an operational test reactor, specifically in the Belgian high-performance reactor BR2, where nuclear fuel plates are crafted into a curved shape to concentrate neutrons from uranium fission at the center, resulting in a higher neutron density.

The second phase verification marks the final step before entry into the global nuclear fuel supplier market. After its completion in late 2025, Korean nuclear fuel will be eligible to bid to supply nuclear fuel for the BR2 project.

A successful bid for the project is expected to generate an annual economic impact worth 30 billion won ($23.1 million), according to the KAERI.

By Ko Jae-won and Han Yubin

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