Abstract The behaviour of fuel rods while in reactor is influenced by many parameters. As far as fabrication is concerned, fuel pellet diameter and density, and inner cladding diameter are important examples. Statistical analyses of quality control data show a scatter of these parameters within the specified tolerances. At present it is common practice to use a combination of superimposed unfavorable tolerance limits (worst case dataset) in fuel rod design calculations. Distributions are not considered. The results obtained in this way are very conservative but the degree of conservatism is difficult to quantify. Probabilistic calculations based on distributions allow the replacement of the worst case dataset by a dataset leading to results with known, defined conservatism. This is achieved by response surface methods and Monte Carlo calculations on the basis of statistical distributions of the important input parameters. The procedure is illustrated by means of two examples.