Within the scope of the 5th EURATOM Framework Programme (FP) for the HTR-F and HTR-F1 projects, a new 4-year integrated project on very high temperature reactors (RAPHAEL: ReActor for Process Heat And Electricity) was started in April 2006 as part of the 6th Framework Programme. The Sub-Project on Fuel Technology (SP-FT) is one of eight sub-projects constituting the RAPHAEL project. R&D conducted in this sub-project focuses on understanding fuel behaviour, determining the limits of state-of-the-art fuel, and developing potential performance improvements. Fabrication processes were worked out for alternative fuel kernel composition (UCO instead of UO2) and coating (ZrC instead of SiC): i) UCO microstructure reduces fission product migration and is thus considered superior to UO2 under high burn-ups and high temperature gradients. For this reason, the manufacturing feasibility of UCO kernels using modified external sol-gel routes was addressed. The calcining and sintering steps were particularly studied. ii) For its better high temperature performance, ZrC is a candidate coating material for replacing SiC in TRISO (TRistructural ISOtropic) particles. One of the objectives was therefore to deposit a stoichiometric ZrC layer without impurities. An “analytical irradiation” experiment currently performed in the HFR — named PYCASSO for PYrocarbon irradiation for Creep And Swelling/Shrinkage of Objects — was set up to measure the changes in coating material properties as a function of neutron fluence, with samples coming from the new fabrication process. This experiment was started in April 2008 and will provide data on particle component behaviour under irradiation. This data is required to upgrade material models implemented in the ATLAS fuel simulation code. The PYCASSO irradiation experiment is a true Generation IV VHTR effort, with Korean and Japanese samples included in the irradiation. Further RAPHAEL results will be made available to the GIF VHTR Fuel and Fuel Cycle project partners in the future. Post-irradiation examinations and heat-up tests performed on fuel irradiated in an earlier project are being performed to investigate the behaviour of state-of-the-art fuel in VHTR normal and accident conditions. Very interesting results from destructive examinations performed on the HFR-EU1bis pebbles were obtained, showing a clear temperature (and high burn-up) influence on both kernel changes (including fission product behaviour) and the coating layers. Based on fuel particle models established earlier, the fuel modelling capabilities could be further improved: i) Modelling of fuel elements containing thousands of particles is expected to enable a statistical approach to mechanical particle behaviour and fission product release. ii) A database on historical and new fuel properties was built to enable validation of models. This paper reports on recent progress and main results of the RAPHAEL sub-project on fuel technology.

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