Comprehensive Investigations of Accident Tolerant Nuclear Fuels.


Nuclear accidents illustrate the risks associated with the present design of reactors based on pure urania (UO2) fuel with its low thermal conductivity that deteriorates at high temperatures and upon further oxidation. Zircaloy cladding reacts rapidly with water at high temperatures and highly explosive hydrogen gas can be released.


In the context of developing a sustainable replacement for non-renewable energy sources, innovative research towards enhanced accident-tolerant nuclear fuel (EATF) that can withstand the loss of coolant for a long time is gaining momentum. EATF materials must have higher thermal conductivities (κ) to prevent meltdown, a slower rate of hydrogen generation, and improved retention of fission products. We demonstrated that high thermal conductivity nuclear fuel is safer and longer-lasting due to reduced thermal strain.


The overall objective of our research is to qualify and develop a fundamental understanding of selected evolutionary and revolutionary fuel concepts. We investigate ceramic and metallic fuels (with κ increasing with temperature) using the software developed in our research group and advanced ab initio methods with predictive power that are now being conceived through a worldwide collaboration. To prevent errors and make state of the art codes more accessible to engineering students, we have developed an interface, which will be further updated.



·     Simulations: Quantum Espresso, with Scheng­BTE, alma-BTE . EPW, Boltztrap and our own interface written in Python; VASP, MEDEA, CASTEP, WIEN2k_18.2, LAMMPS

·     Experimental techniques include:  In Prof. Szpunar laboratory, the advanced Laser Flash Analyzer (TA-2800 system) is installed to be used to measure thermal conductivity and diffusivity. The specimens can be analyzed using maps of grain orientation distribution, grain-boundary character distribution, grain-boundary structure, micro-texture, stress distribution, and distribution of chemical elements. These data are mainly generated from analysis of electron back scattered diffraction (EBSD) using FEG-SEM equipped with orientation imaging (OIM) and EDS systems in our laboratory. X-ray diffraction D8. Also, advanced 3D imaging can be used for analysis of internal structure of fuel pellets and cladding materials using our system installed at Canadian Light Source (CLS) located at the University of Saskatchewan. The XES and XAS spectra are measured at CLS.


Please contact us about PhD. and MSc positions/projects at the University of Saskatchewan (USASK):

Dr., P.Eng. Barbara Szpunar:

Department of Physics and Engineering Physics

Dr., D. Sci, Prof. Jerzy Szpunar:

Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering  


To qualify for Physics Department scholarship 75% is required to get possibly a partial scholarship while it is needed 80% for a full departmental.   This is after conversion to evaluation at USASK. Additionally, students are funded by NSERC grants.


FYI the links to past students thesis are listed in references to this course:

We also include info on Canada’s top Research Universities:

PEP Research Informa0on Session & Student-Faculty Mixer – Tuesday November 29, 2022: Advanced Materials for SMRs


The University of Saskatchewan is committed to employment equity and diversity. Applications from the four designated equity groups (women, persons with a disability/disabilities, Indigenous persons, and visible minorities/racialized persons) are especially encouraged for this role. The University of Saskatchewan relies on section 48 of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code to give preference of employment.