Advanced fuel agreements signed

07 September 2017

Two separate innovative nuclear fuels are closer to deployment thanks to agreements signed yesterday. Lightbridge Corporation and Areva NP signed a binding agreement to set up a joint venture to develop, manufacture and commercialise Lightbridge's advanced metallic fuel technology, while a memorandum of understanding between X-energy and Centrus Energy will see the companies work toward the development of a facility to fabricate Triso fuel.

The joint venture between Reston, Virginia-based Lightbridge and North American Areva NP (Areva Inc) is to be the exclusive vehicle through which the companies will research, develop, demonstrate, fabricate, license, market and sell fuel assemblies using Lightbridge's proprietary metallic fuel designs and other advanced nuclear fuel intellectual property contributed by both companies. The joint venture will be owned on a 50-50 basis, and its activities will encompass pressurised water reactors (with the exception of VVERs), boiling water reactors, light-water cooled small and medium reactors, and research reactors.

Lightbridge's advanced metallic fuel is made from a zirconium-uranium alloy and uses a unique composition and fuel rod geometry, which the company says offers improvements to the economics, efficiency and safety of existing and new nuclear power plants. The company is preparing for fabrication and irradiation testing of metallic fuel samples under commercial reactor operating conditions at Norway's Halden research reactor. In November 2016 Lightbridge also announced the signature of a letter of intent with an unnamed US nuclear utility for a lead test assembly demonstration in a commercial US nuclear power plant.

Areva NP and Lightbridge entered into a Joint Development Agreement in March 2016. The binding Heads of Terms Agreement signed yesterday summarises all material terms and conditions for the joint venture. A definitive operating agreement is expected to be finalised in the fourth quarter, with the joint venture to be launched in the first quarter of next year.

Game changer

The MOU signed yesterday by Greenbelt, Maryland-based X-energy and uranium enrichment company Centrus will see the two parties work towards the development of a fabrication facility to provide uranium oxycarbide tristructural isotropic fuel - known as Triso fuel - for X-energy's Xe-100 high temperature gas-cooled modular reactor and other advanced reactors. Under the MOU, the companies will jointly prepare a deployment plan for the fuel technology; design a cost-effective, highly automated manufacturing process line; and seek funding for a future commercial fuel production facility.

The Xe-100 is a 200 MWt (75 MWe) reactor, which X-energy envisages being built as a standard "four-pack" plant generating about 300 MWe. The plant will use 'pebbles' of fuel containing Triso fuel particles. Each Triso particle has a kernel of uranium oxycarbide (also known as UCO) enriched to 10% uranium-235, encased in carbon and ceramic layers which prevent the release of radioactivity. The layers provide each particle with its own independent containment system, while the graphite surrounding the particles moderates the nuclear reaction. Such fuel cannot melt down.

In January, X-energy was awarded cost-shared funding of $53 million over five years from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to support the development of the Xe-100, working in partnership with BWX Technology, Oregon State University, Teledyne-Brown Engineering, SGL Group, Idaho National Laboratory and ORNL.

X-energy CEO Kam Ghaffarian said yesterday the DOE has spent "close to" $400 million in developing and qualifying the Triso particle in preparation for advanced reactor commercialisation.

"X-energy, in partnership with Centrus and taking advantage of its domestic enrichment experience and engineering know-how, is anxious to evaluate how we can together move UCO Triso into final fuel form production, benefitting many in the industry," he said.

Centrus Energy president and CEO Daniel Poneman said X-energy's innovative reactor design was a "potential game-changer" for the USA's nuclear industry.

"Our technical and engineering teams are eager to help X-energy develop Triso fuel for their reactor. We agree that American leadership in the global nuclear market requires that we develop an end-to-end domestic capability, from high-assay low-enriched uranium enrichment through fuel production, for next-generation reactors, he said.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News