Nuclear industry explores accident-resistant fuel
ATLANTA (AP) — The explosions that damaged a crippled Japanese nuclear plant during a disaster that forced mass evacuations in 2011 show what can happen when nuclear fuel overheats.
In response to the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident, the U.S. government dramatically increased funding to develop tougher protective skins for nuclear fuel, hoping to spur innovation in designs that hadn’t changed much in years. While the U.S. Department of Energy was spending $2 million before the accident on future fuel designs, the funding reached as much as $30 million afterward.
Now scientists at multiple institutes are in the middle of developing designs that could start finding their way into test reactors as soon as this summer, followed by larger tests later on.
The goal is to create nuclear fuel that that is more resistant to damage and melting in extreme situations and less prone to a chemical reaction that makes its metal wrapping brittle and produces explosive hydrogen gas.