Westinghouse Electric Co. and Exelon Generation said they successfully completed a first-of-a-kind installation of EnCore Fuel at Exelon's Byron Unit 2 nuclear power plant in Illinois.

The accident-tolerant nuclear fuel was installed during a scheduled refueling outage.

The fuel rod assemblies contain chromium-coated zirconium cladding for enhanced oxidation and corrosion resistance and uranium silicide pellets. The fuel is intended to increase public safety through new materials, while improving plant economics through longer fuel cycles and enhanced flexible power operation capability.

The Byron nuclear station in Illinois. Source: Exelon GenerationThe Byron nuclear station in Illinois. Source: Exelon GenerationWestinghouse developed EnCore Fuel as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Accident Tolerant Fuel Program. Westinghouse is currently working on an Accident Tolerant Fuel grant from the DOE totaling more than $93 million.

The DOE said that accident tolerant fuels use new materials that reduce hydrogen buildup, improve fission product retention and are structurally more resistant to radiation, corrosion and high temperatures. They could extend the refueling cycle from 18 months at present to 24 months or longer. They also could require roughly 30% less fuel.

Framatome, GE and Westinghouse are currently testing their accident tolerant fuels. The three companies hope to commercialize their fuels and deploy them to commercial reactors by 2025.

GE is working to develop Iron Chromium Aluminum (FeCrAl) alloys cladding, trademarked IronClad. GE is also developing a coating program for zirconium alloys, trademarked ARMOR, and the study of uranium dioxide-based ceramic metal fuels.

Framatome is developing chromium-coated zirconium alloy cladding with chromia-doped uranium oxide (UO2) pellets (Cr-Cr2O3). Framatome also will continue and expand development efforts on its silicon carbide cladding concepts. In July 2017, Framatome said that its lead fuel assemblies would be delivered to Southern Nuclear Co.’s Vogtle Unit 2 in the winter of 2019.

In addition to replacing about one-third of Byron Unit 2's fuel during the spring outage, work included a multi-million-dollar transformer upgrade project by replacing two main power transformers, which are used to step up the electricity leaving the site for transmission.