UTSA Hosts International Fuels Collaboration to Advance Nuclear Energy Research


The UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy held an international collaboration to advance the technical readiness of high uranium density fuels (HDFs) and composites for small modular reactors on campus from July 12 to July 14.

The program was led by Elizabeth S. Sooby, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and consisted of a group of experts who shared their knowledge, trained students, and planned an aggressive experimental scope of work to prepare for the next generation of nuclear fuel compounds. Participants came from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Boise State University and the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.

"All of the institutions involved are world-leading in studying nuclear fuel behaviour under accident conditions, and bringing them together makes for a collaboration much larger than the sum of its parts," said Joel Turner, senior lecturer and Rolls-Royce Research Fellow in the School of Engineering at the University of Manchester.

The materials this group of experts is developing has the potential to increase fuel cycle lengths and power output of the nation’s nuclear reactor fleet and increase the energy supply of HDFs, a carbon free, high energy density technology.

"The meeting provided a great opportunity to collaborate on shared interests between multiple research institutes," said Josh White, team leader of the Fuels Research Laboratory at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "Meeting with the diverse group of students was also refreshing, providing a glimpse of a new cohort of nuclear professionals on the rise."

The team brings nearly a decade of collaborative history in fuel fabrication, accident testing, and uranium compound chemistry with overlapping interests in understanding the fundamental thermochemistry of uranium compounds and also in bringing these promising fuel forms to market.

"This is a very talented group of lead investigators who are coming together from across the globe to collaborate and share what they know on the research and development of nuclear energy," said Sooby.

The program of events included a tour of several UTSA spaces including the Science and Engineering Building Maker Space, the Extreme Environments Materials Laboratory, and the Kleberg Advanced Microscopy Center. The program also featured presentations from collaborating investigators on their labs, capabilities, and current projects.

"It was invigorating to have this in-person meeting," said Brian Jaques, director of the Boise State Advanced Materials Laboratory. "Not only to finally meet and get to know our collaborators, but also to facilitate organic, effective communication while truly engaging the team, which has led to stronger relationships."

The event also included proposed efforts for the U.S. Department of Energy’s recently funded Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP), which included $61M awarded to U.S. universities and industry and national laboratories to fund nuclear energy projects.

UTSA is currently leading one of the NEUPs, which includes an $800k award to advance nuclear fuel technologies in collaboration with Los Alamos National Laboratory and Boise State University and with funding from the University of Manchester.

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