Fuel pellet
​New materials will result in safer nuclear fuel. Chalmers researcher Mattias Thuvander has recently been granted over 33 million Swedish kronor from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research for developing a new and more accident tolerant fuel.
​Image: Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)

Major investment in safer nuclear fuel

​Today’s nuclear fuel has to evolve for achieving safer nuclear power plants. Then, materials are needed which can withstand high temperatures and counteract release of dangerous substances if an accident would occur. The Chalmers researcher Mattias Thuvander has recently been granted over 33 million Swedish kronor from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research for developing new fuels for safer nuclear power.
The Chalmers colleagues Itai Panas, Teodora Retegan and Christian Ekberg at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering are also part of the project team, as well as researchers at KTH and Uppsala University.
Together, the researchers will develop a new and more accident tolerant nuclear fuel. Both the so-called fuel pellets and the cladding tubes in which they are enclosed will have to be improved. The cladding tubes will get a chromium coating and the fuel pellets will be made from uranium nitride, instead of the uranium dioxide which is used today.
"The new material is expected to decrease the releases of dangerous substances at high temperatures, and in this way, the consequences of an accident are mitigated," says Mattias Thuvander, Associate Professor at the Department of Physics at Chalmers University of Technology.
The researchers will also try new ways to improve the corrosion resistance of the fuel, in order to improve the safety margins further. In addition, they will evaluate how the fuel behaves, both during normal operation and simulated accidents.

What is the first step in the project?
"Now I will gather the team behind the application, draw some outlines of the project and start to employ PhD students."

What does this investment mean to your research?
"This will be a good contribution to my research, and means that we will be more people who collaborate. This is good for nuclear fuel research within Sweden."

How can nuclear safety be improved?
"We saw in Fukushima that extreme events can have severe consequences. This has led to major research efforts globally for developing fuels that can manage without cooling for a longer period of time, giving the operator more time to undertake countermeasures. Our research aims to make the fuel more accident tolerant, and thus, safety is improved."

Nuclear power is not often mentioned when energy research is discussed. How do you see the role of nuclear power in the future?
"Nuclear power is a proven technology for large scale electricity production with very small CO2 emissions. It will be globally important during many years, but in the future, electricity will probably be produced in other ways, such as solar, wind, hydro power and maybe so-called generation 4 nuclear power, nuclear fusion or carbon capture.  The day we can store large amounts of energy in for example batteries, maybe we can do with only solar power. But I think that day lays several decades away, and until then, we need many fossil-free technologies."

What do you hope that your research will lead to in the long run?
"I hope to be able to contribute to safer nuclear power, but also to reinforce the Swedish nuclear fuel industry, which will probably remain for a long time, even if we decommission our nuclear power plants."

Text: Mia Halleröd Palmgren, mia.hallerodpalmgren@chalmers.se
Translation: Klara Insulander Björk, klaraib@chalmers.se
Read the press release from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (In Swedish).
More information:
Mattias Thuvander, Associate Professor, Department of Physics, Chalmers University of Technology, mattias.thuvander@chalmers.se, +46 31 772 33 22


Published: Mon 19 Feb 2018. Modified: Thu 22 Feb 2018