Nuclear fuel development has progressed remarkably over the past 50 years. The fuel residence times in the reactors have increased by more than a factor of 20 and the reliability has increased by several orders of magnitude. Fuel is a small cost of generating power from a nuclear reactor as opposed to fuel costs from other fossil fuel energy technologies.

Nuclear fuel design and fabrication techniques will continue to evolve, with their evolution driven by economics and new uses for nuclear energy. A particular fuel design must not only meet the needs of the reactor designer but also must be economical to fabricate. Furthermore, if the fuel is to be repro­cessed, it must be amenable to existing reprocessing schemes or new reprocessing technology must be developed to accommodate the fuel. Some fuel types are subjected only to once-through cycles with no reprocessing. In this case, the spent fuel and secondary containment must meet the requirements of the repository.

Looking to the future, high-temperature nuclear reactors for space travel will surely be commonplace. High-temperature fuels, such as nitride fuel, will continue to be developed for this purpose. Ground transportation will move toward hydrogen as a fuel not only to reduce carbon emissions for environ­mental benefits but also for many countries to reduce their dependence on foreign oil. Nuclear reactors with high outlet temperatures when coupled with thermochemical cycles will be used for hydrogen production. Here, particle fuels or yet to be devel­oped fuels will be used in these reactors. Water resources will diminish in this century. Nuclear reactors used for seawater desalination purposes will be developed that require long-life fuel. These reactors could be deployed in developing countries, with no need for refueling for two or three decades. All of these future uses will continue to challenge fuel developers for decades.


Nuclear Engineering • Nuclear Fission Reactors: Boiling Water and Pressurized Water Reactors • Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing • Nuclear Fusion Reactors • Nuclear Power Economics • Nuclear Power, History of • Nuclear Power Plants, Decommissioning of • Nuclear Power: Risk Analysis • Nuclear Proliferation and Diversion • Nuclear Waste • Occupational Health Risks in Nuclear Power • Public Reaction to Nuclear Power Siting and Disposal

Further Reading

Cahn, R., Haasen, P., and Kramer, E. (Eds.). (1994). ‘‘Materials Science and Technology, Volumes 10A and 10B, Nuclear Materials,’’ Part I. VCH, New York.

Gulden, T., and Nickel, H. (1977). Coated particle fuels. Nucl. Technol. 35, 206-213.

Leggett, R., and Walters, L. (1993). Status of LMR fuel development in the United States of america. J. Nucl. Mater. 204, 23-32.

Olander, D. (1976). ‘‘Fundamental Aspects of Nuclear Reactor Fuel Elements.’’ Technical Information Center, Energy Research and Development Administration, Oak Ridge, TN.

Weisman, J., and Eckart, R. (1981). Basic elements of light water reactor fuel rod design. Nucl. Technol. 53, 326-343.

Updated: September 24, 2015 — 12:21 am