Nuclear fuel company announces plans for Oak Ridge plant, 400 jobs

A nuclear fuel company is coming to Oak Ridge and plans to employ at least 400 people and invest $300M.

TRISO-X LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of X-energy LLC, has selected the Horizon Center Industrial Park in west Oak Ridge as the site for its operations. It will be the United States' first commercial advanced High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) based nuclear reactor fuel fabrication facility of its kind, an official news release from the company stated.

"We'd like to think this is the biggest thing to happen to Oak Ridge since the Manhattan Project," Pete Pappano, TRISO-X president, said in announcing his selection of Oak Ridge for the project.

Speaking at a meeting of the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board on Monday, he explained that he had lived in Oak Ridge at an earlier time, working for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and has now returned to the city. He said he lives in west Oak Ridge with his three children.

"I just think it's a great day for the city of Oak Ridge," Mayor Warren Gooch said at the IDB meeting.

The Oak Ridge City Council-appointed IDB, which manages the Horizon Center, unanimously voted to have its chairman, David Wilson, negotiate the transfer of land to TRISO-X. Samantha Royster, the IDB's executive assistant, told The Oak Ridger the IDB plans to give the land to TRISO-X free of charge.

During the meeting, Pappano spoke highly of Oak Ridge. While he said he'd looked at other cities in other states, city and IDB officials had been helpful in working with him. He said Oak Ridge is the No. 1 place where residents are comfortable with — and knowledgeable about — nuclear energy.

Scheduled for commissioning and startup as early as 2025, the TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility (TF3) is projected to generate more than 400 jobs in the Oak Ridge area and attract an investment of nearly $300 million, building off investments to date of more than $75 million, the news release stated. Site preparation and construction will start this year.

Pappano spoke of a phase two for the project, which would involve hiring more people. Eventually, he said, if nuclear energy becomes popular, the facility could employ as many as a thousand people. He said the facility will be 500,000 square feet.

The facility will use uranium enriched to less than 20% to manufacture nuclear fuel products for a variety of advanced and small modular reactors, plus specialty fuels for space nuclear projects, the release stated.

The TF3 is being commissioned through funding, in part, from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). The news release did not give the Oak Ridge project's specific cost, but did describe Congress providing $1.1 billion for the ARDP in November 2021.

“The Department is pleased with the progress that TRISO-X has made to date in developing a commercial-scale capability to fabricate this robust fuel form in support of our Advanced Reactor Demonstration program, and we believe that the Oak Ridge area is an excellent choice for this facility based on the availability of a technology-oriented labor force and strong community support for the Department’s nuclear mission,“ Alice Caponiti, deputy assistant secretary for Reactor Fleet and Advanced Reactor Deployment, is quoted as saying in the company news release.

The commercial facility’s cross-cutting design will enable manufacturing of fuel for any number of advanced or small nuclear reactors based on TRistructural ISOtropic (TRISO) fuel.

“The Department of Energy calls TRISO the most robust nuclear fuel on Earth,” Pappano said in the release. “TRISO is a technology that’s been developed and improved over 60 years. Our facility will bring this game-changing fuel to market, beginning with a proprietary spherical fuel pebble for X-energy’s Xe-100 reactor and its utility partner Grant County Public Utility District, in Washington state.”

“Since the Tri-Energy Partnership was announced on April 1, 2021, we have strongly supported X-energy’s efforts to bring a new, safer fuel source to the marketplace. TRISO-X represents the next evolution of nuclear fuel that the industry and U.S. government have invested millions of dollars ensuring the public’s safety,” Kevin Nordt, chief resource officer of Grant County Public Utility District, stated in the release.

The facility will initially produce eight metric tons per year of fuel that can support about 12 Xe-100 reactors. The TRISO-X team aims to expand the facility’s capacity to 16 MTU/year by the early 2030s. Throughout construction of the modular facility, the subsidiary will partner with local community colleges to develop a training program and recruit from the local labor force, helping to create what the news release called "sustainable economic opportunities" for the Oak Ridge region.

“We’ve seen growing interest in our work in the last few years, especially since the TRISO-X subsidiary was formed,” Pappano stated. “The Department of Defense and NASA are currently two of our government customers. The TF3 will be used to continue to support government funded projects, such as mobile reactors for the military or space nuclear projects.”

Working in OR since 2016

“Our team has actually been working in Oak Ridge since 2016. We now have about 40 employees and five locations, two of which are operating facilities: our TRISO-X Pilot Facility located inside Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the TRISO-X Research and Development Center located in the Centrus Technology Manufacturing Center," Pappano stated.

The TRISO-X Pilot Facility operates inside ORNL via a public-private partnership and produces kilogram quantities of HALEU fuel.

The Oak Ridge Horizon Center is located in the heart of Tennessee’s Technology Corridor.


The issue of providing power to the Horizon Center has led to some debate, with environmental groups, city staff and elected officials discussing the benefits and drawbacks of different electrical line routes.

Pappano told The Oak Ridger the project requires about 25 megawatts of power, but he did not take a position on a specific power line route.

"We're more interested in that it's there when we need it," he said.

Source: Oakridger, by Benjamin Pounds

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Published April 7, 2022