First Light teams up with CNL on tritium production

30 November 2022

The UK's First Light Fusion plans to build a 60 MW pilot power plant based on its unique projectile fusion technology to prove the integrated engineering for electricity generation and the production of tritium. It has partnered with Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) to design a system for extracting tritium from the reactor.

How a First Light Fusion plant could look (Image: First Light Fusion)

Oxford, England-based First Light Fusion said the proposed pilot plant is expected to cost about USD570 million to develop and will produce about 2 kilograms of excess tritium per year. It said the plant has been designed to minimise the barriers to a first-of-a-kind commercial power plant, while reducing overall costs and engineering risk, and accelerate the development of a secure supply of tritium, by enabling a revenue-generating pilot plant with less stringent engineering requirements.

One of the key features of deuterium-tritium fueled fusion power plant designs is the ability to purposely produce tritium in the reactor, which is then used as reactor fuel.

First Light's inertial confinement approach aims to create the extreme temperatures and pressures required for fusion by compressing a target using a hypervelocity projectile. Its plant design avoids the three biggest engineering challenges of fusion: preventing neutron damage, producing tritium, and managing extreme heat flux.

The company said its 'liquid lithium wall' approach, inside the reactor chamber where the fusion reaction will take place, gives it an inherent advantage in tritium production. The fusion reaction is surrounded by liquid lithium, allowing tritium self-sufficiency to be easily reached, and making it possible to design for excess tritium production.

First Light has entered into a collaboration agreement with CNL for the preliminary design of a system capable of extracting tritium from the First Light reactor, as well as the development of tritium processing and storage options. Under the agreement, CNL will choose two major tritium extraction candidate techniques on which system size and tritium inventory calculations, and assessments of safety and technological risks, will be performed.

CNL said the tritium extraction system represents an essential part of tritium control in a fusion fuel cycle, and is a key factor in harvesting the tritium and limiting tritium permeation into the coolant. "This is of fundamental significance for reactor licensing and safety, and demonstrates the fusion reactor self-sufficiency in terms of tritium production and consumption," it said. CNL will also prepare recommendations for future laboratory work that could lead to the production of testing equipment used to validate the systems in a laboratory environment.

"A First Light commercial power plant, based on our unique projectile approach, will avoid some of the biggest engineering barriers to that of other fusion approaches, including the production of tritium," said Nick Hawker, Co-founder and CEO of First Light Fusion. "Our design will allow tritium self-sufficiency, and CNL will support us with the initial design of a system capable of extracting tritium."

"CNL has a long and extensive history in the development of technologies and systems to safely manage tritium, given their presence in CANDU reactors here in Canada," said Ian Castillo, Head of CNL's Hydrogen & Tritium Technologies Directorate. "With the growing momentum and interest in fusion as a source of carbon-free electricity, we are increasingly leveraging these capabilities to help advance fusion reactor designs and technologies towards deployment."

In addition to working with CNL, First Light Fusion is also working with Spanish engineering giant IDOM on the design of its fusion reactor chamber. This chamber will include the unique liquid lithium wall, which will absorb the neutrons caused by the reaction caused by the impact of the projectile into the target, or fuel.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News