Canadian Nuclear Laboratories explores fuels for SMRs

Scientists in Canada are exploring how advanced nuclear fuels for small modular reactors (SMRs) can help to accelerate net zero progress.

(L-R) Dr. Than Do, Dr. Mouna Saoudi, and Dr. Julien Lang, R&D scientists at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL)
(L-R) Dr. Than Do, Dr. Mouna Saoudi, and Dr. Julien Lang, R&D scientists at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) - Canadian Light Source

Mouna Saoudi, a materials scientist at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is using the Canadian Light Source research facility at the University of Saskatchewan to explore nuclear energy solutions that could be used to help fill the gap between fossil fuels and renewables.

“SMRs would be an efficient way to reach net zero by 2050, which is an ambitious but hopefully achievable goal,” said Saoudi.

SMRs can power electrical grids, provide process heat and offer energy solutions for various industries such as remote mining operations. Saoudi is currently investigating how types of advanced nuclear fuels behave under different reactor conditions.

The advanced fuels combine uranium oxide – the main element used in nuclear fuel for decades – with the naturally occurring and abundant element thorium in oxide form.  Saoudi said there are many advantages to mixing the two elements, including increased efficiency and better in-reactor performance.

Using the HXMA beamline, Saoudi was able to confirm the similar distribution of the two elements in the mixed fuel oxides. She believes this was the first time the CLS has been used for this type of study.

Saoudi has been working with researcher Andrew Grosvenor, from the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Chemistry. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Nuclear Materials.

The CLS allowed Saoudi and her collaborators to investigate the electronic and local structure of the fuel – crucial information needed to identify the optimum fuel composition that would have better in-reactor performance than that of uranium oxide.

“For this project specifically, we needed to do this experiment at the Canadian Light Source,” Saoudi said. “I hope that in the near future we will be using the facility for other experiments.”