USNC Delivers TRISO Particle Fuel for NASA Programs

USNC Delivers TRISO Particle Fuel for NASA Programs

OAK RIDGE, TN– June 13, 2023 – Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) announced the successful delivery of nuclear fuel to NASA’s Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion program. This marks the first delivery by industry of uranium nitride coated particle fuel to the agency and demonstrates the flexibility, precision, and value of USNC’s Pilot Fuel Manufacturing Facility (PFM).

The fuel particles purchased were small-diameter uranium nitride kernels with a tri-structural zirconium carbide outer coating surrounding pyrolytic carbon and porous carbon buffer layers. Past attempts by industry to leverage uranium nitride fuel without tri-structural coatings resulted in failure at temperatures well below predicted or desired performance levels. NASA is optimistic that this more robust fuel form will unlock higher performance regions at lower cost for future space nuclear efforts.

"It’s great to see industry stepping up with investment in infrastructure that delivers,” said Jason Turpin, Space Nuclear Propulsion Program Manager for NASA. “Advanced capabilities like the Pilot Fuel Manufacturing facility mean more tools in the NTP toolbox and that provides a shorter and clearer path to success."

Though other companies have attempted at producing these particles, USNC is the first and the only company to deliver on this challenging NASA solicitation.

Cross section (left) and surface (right) images of a zirconium carbide TRISO particle with a uranium nitride fuel kernel.

“We designed our process and facility specifically to be both scalable and flexible to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding market for advanced coated particle nuclear fuels,” said Dr. Kurt Terrani, USNC’s Executive Vice President for fuel development. “I’m proud of the team and our ability to serve and support NASA and its important missions. We are ramping up fast and further to extend the benefits of advanced nuclear fuel solutions here on Earth.”

Dr. Ethan Chaleff, Program Manager for nuclear propulsion at Ultra Safe emphasized how this fuel delivery aligns with USNC’s own NTP ambitions. “Delivering fuel to NASA seemed like a distant dream only a few years ago. Now, its incredible to see this team delivering at a high level and working closely with NASA. It’s both motivating and exciting how this achievement further enables our efforts to deploy NTP for both government and commercial applications.”

Leveraging an experienced team and many technologies both with roots going back to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USNC was able leap past lab-scale deployment and set up a single line of production-scale equipment within 15 months.  The PFM facility holds a radioactive material license and is located on the former K-25 site at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

PFM will support USNC in the near term across a number of areas including manufacture of Qualification Fuel test articles for its Micro-Modular™ Reactor (MMR®). It also serves to hone the production-scale equipment and support the licensing activities for the recently announced planned Joint Venture with Framatome for large scale production of TRISO-based fuels.

Uranium nitride is a candidate particle fuel for high performance nuclear reactors due to its much higher thermal stability and higher uranium density than other fuels. It has long been explored for future terrestrial and space reactor applications. The flexibility of PFM allows it to produce a full range of candidate particle fuels, including UC, UN, and UCO, along with a variety of coatings, including silicon and zirconium carbides.

About Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation

Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC), a U.S. company headquartered in Seattle (WA), is a global leader and strong vertical integrator of nuclear technologies and services, on Earth and in Space. The company produces the Micro-Modular™ reactor (MMR®), TRISO-based Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated (FCM®) nuclear fuel, and develops nuclear power and propulsion technologies for space exploration.

The company has active micro reactor deployment projects in Canada at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River, and in the United States at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Additional units are in development in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

USNC is committed to opening new markets around the world for safe, commercially competitive, power and heat from nuclear energy. Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation is Reliable Zero-Carbon Energy. Anywhere.

Ultra Safe Nuclear Contact
Brian Meeley
Phone: (703) 282-0691