Lightbridge progress on testing advanced metallic nuclear fuel

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has granted an export licence covering all planned activities related to Lightbridge’s advanced metallic nuclear fuel in Norway. The fuel is to undergo irradiation testing at Norway’s Halden research reactor.

The licence has been granted to the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE), which operates the 25 MW boiling water reactor, and is valid for a standard three-year term from 31 October 2018. The licence , which is extendable, follows the signature in July of a 10-year services agreement between Lightbridge and the IFE covering irradiation testing of fuel samples under prototypic commercial reactor operating conditions. Post-irradiation examination of the fuel samples is to be carried out in Sweden by Studsvik and will require a separate export licence, which the IFE is to apply for

Lightbridge CEO Seth Grae said that the export approval, along with a release of initial task and purchase orders, illustrated the project’s progress. “We are pleased to have this export approval secured by our Norwegian partners, and remain fully committed to the start of full-scale lead test assembly demonstration in a commercial reactor in the 2020 to 2021 time frame,” he said.

Lightbridge’s advanced metallic fuel is made from a zirconium-uranium (Zr-U) alloy and uses a unique composition and fuel rod geometry, which, the company says, enables it to operate at a higher power density than uranium oxide fuels in use today.

Lightbridge metallic annular fuel would allow more power from existing reactors and better economics

* 10-17% power uprate and longer fuel cycles for existing PWRs; and
* Up to 30% power uprate for new build PWRs.
* Increased revenue and improved operating margins of existing nuclear power units;
* Reduced total levelized cost per kilowatt-hour for new build reactors, including over a 50% reduction in incremental capital cost per kW vs. new build; and
* Increased competitiveness of nuclear power versus other energy sources.

Lightbridge increases the surface area of the fuel by changing the shape from a cylindrical rod to the other shape. For Boiler Water reactors it is often a cylinder shape (so inside areas along with outside areas). These alternative fuel shapes are called Annular fuel and were originally developed at MIT. South Korea is also working on it. By increasing the surface area they make it easier to cool and also enable more power to be generated from the same reactor. Reactors were built with extra safety margins so increasing the power by 10 to 17% is possible. There are extended uprating and other kinds of nuclear power uprates. This would be a fuel uprate. I did not include the full uprate discussion and annular fuel discussion as it involves repeating many previous articles.

Research and Development Project Schedule

Lightbridge currently anticipate that we [Lightbridge], working in collaboration with our development partners/vendors and contingent upon execution of collaborative research and development agreements with them, will be able to:

* Have semi-scale metallic fuel samples fabricated in 2015-2016 for irradiation testing in a test reactor environment; [Norwegian and Canadian deals]
* Perform in-reactor and out-of-reactor experiments in 2015-2020; [Canada, Norway, Sweden]
* Establish a pilot-scale fuel fabrication facility and demonstrate full-length fabrication of our metallic fuel rods in 2017-2018;
* Develop analytical models in 2014-2017 for our metallic fuel technology that can be used for regulatory licensing; and
* Begin lead test assembly (LTA) operation in a full-size commercial light water reactor in 2020-2021, which involves testing a limited number of our full-scale fuel assemblies in the core of a commercial nuclear power plant over three 18-month cycles.

Accordingly, based on our current estimated schedule, final qualification (i.e., deployment of fuel in the first reload batch) for our 10% power uprate fuel in a commercial reactor is expected in 2023-2024 (at the end of two 18-month cycles of LTA operation). In the interim, over the next 1-2 years, we expect to enter into a commercial arrangement with one or more major fuel fabricators that may include upfront technology access fees and/or engineering support or consulting payments to us.

There are more technical and business case details about the Lightbridge technology at the Nextbigfuture article at this link