Areva joint development with Lightbridge on metallic fuel that will enable 17% uprates of existing reactors and China pebble bed and accelerator driven reactors

1. The first of two reactor pressure vessels has been installed at the demonstration HTR-PM high-temperature gas-cooled reactor unit under construction at Shidaowan in China’s Shandong province. The twin-reactor unit is scheduled to start up next year.

The vessel – about 25 meters in height and weighing about 700 tonnes – was manufactured by Shanghai Electric Nuclear Power Equipment. It successfully completed factory acceptance on 29 February and was dispatched from the manufacturing plant on 2 March.

The demonstration plant’s twin HTR-PM reactors will drive a single 210 MWe turbine. It is expected to start commercial operation in late 2017. An earlier proposal was for 18 further 210 MWe units – giving a total capacity of 3800 MWe – at the Shidaowan site, near Rongcheng in Weihai city, but this has been dropped.

A proposal to construct two 600 MWe HTR plants – each featuring three twin reactor and turbine units – at Ruijin city in China’s Jiangxi province passed a preliminary feasibility review in early 2015. The design of the Ruijin HTRs is based on the smaller Shidaowan demonstration HTR-PM. Construction of the Ruijin reactors is expected to start next year, with grid connection in 2021.

The vessel is hoisted above the unit’s reactor building (Image: China Huaneng)

2. Lightbridge Corporation has entered into a Joint Development Agreement with Areva NP to assess establishing a joint venture this year for the development, manufacture and commercialization of fuel assemblies based on Lightbridge’s “next generation” metallic nuclear fuel technology. The parties will share the cost of the work scope to be performed under the JDA, with Areva contributing in-kind for its share of the costs.

Lightbridge president and CEO Seth Grae said Areva “has the resources and expertise to enable global deployment of our metallic fuel in commercial reactors”. Grae added that the Nuclear Utility Fuel Advisory Board – comprising nuclear fuel and regulatory experts from Dominion Resources, Southern Nuclear Operating Company, Duke Energy, and Exelon Generation – have requested that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission prepare to receive initial regulatory licensing documentation in 2017.

Lightbridge’s all metal fuel (AMF) assembly is comprised entirely of metallic fuel rods and is capable of providing up to 17% increase in power output in existing PWRs and up to a 30% power uprate in new build PWRs operating on 18-month fuel cycles. Due to certain constraints associated with the size of equipment that can fit in the containment structures of existing PWRs, there are limits as to the maximum power uprate level existing PWRs can accommodate without changing their existing containment structure. However, a new build unit can be constructed with a larger containment to allow for higher capacity equipment with relatively small capital cost increase.

Lightbridge is developing three primary nuclear fuel product offerings for power uprates and longer fuel cycles:

  • LTB17-1024™ all-metal fuel for up to 10% power uprates and 24-month operating cycles in existing PWRs;
  • LTB17-1718 1718™ all-metal fuel for up to 17% power uprates and 1818-month operating cycles in existing PWRs; and
  • LTB17-3018™ all-metal fuel for up to 30% power uprates and 18-month operating cycles in new-build PWRs.
  • In addition, Lightbridge is developing LTB17-Th18™, our™ thorium-based seed and blanket fuel, which offers significant back-end advantages and enhanced proliferation resistance of used fuel.

Presently, the size of Lightbridge’s initial target market worldwide is approximately 127 GWe. Our target market is projected to grow to 261 GWe by 2030. The following chart shows a breakdown of Lightbridge’s estimated target market by market segment.

3. A strategic cooperation agreement to develop accelerator-driven systems has been signed between China General Nuclear (CGN) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Such systems could be used to transmutate used nuclear fuel or run subcritical nuclear reactors powered by thorium.