SASKATOON — If Canada is to meet its target of net-zero emissions by 2050, our country must transition to a diverse, innovative range of alternative sources of energy.
Mouna Saoudi, a materials scientist at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), is using the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan to explore how advanced nuclear fuels for small modular reactors (SMRs) 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,” says Saoudi.
Video: Innovative fuels for Small Modular Reactors
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.
“My main focus is characterization of advanced nuclear fuels for potential use in small modular reactors,” Saoudi says.
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 says that 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, uranium and thorium, in the mixed fuel oxides. Saoudi believes this was the first time the CLS has been used for this type of study.
Saoudi has been working with USask researcher Andrew Grosvenor from the 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.”