Current uranium oxide fuels are stable and safe, but do not conduct heat well. This limits their power, and cracks and degrades fuel pellets in the rods. The new fuel uses beryllium oxide (BeO) interlaced with uranium oxide.
BeO conducts heat 50% better than uranium dioxide, according to Purdue researchers. BeO also maintains a relatively uniform temperature inside the rods, so the risk of heat building up to a meltdown and subsequent release of radiation is far less with the new fuel. Researchers are now checking to see if the new fuel stands up to the extreme conditions inside reactors.