AECL set to test Lightbridge fuel

28 October 2014

Samples of novel metallic nuclear fuel designed by US-based company Lightbridge are to be fabricated and irradiation tested at Canada's Chalk River facilities under an initial cooperation agreement signed with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL).

Chalk River Laboratory (AECL)
Chalk River Laboratory (Image: AECL)

The initial agreement covers the first of three phases of joint work, comprising quality management planning to ensure compliance with US regulatory requirements and loop irradiation testing of fuel samples. Work is expected to begin during the fourth quarter of 2014. According to a statement from Lightbridge, the parties intend to complete negotiations on agreements covering the second and third phases over the next few months.

The second phase of work will involve development of a fabrication plan and a preliminary experiment design for loop irradiation testing. Actual fabrication and irradiation of Lightbridge-designed metallic fuel samples will take place in the third phase.

Lightbridge president and CEO Seth Grae described the cooperation agreement as an "extraordinary milestone" for the company, allowing for the fuel to be fabricated and tested at a single location and within the company's planned timelines. "AECL has state-of-the-art fuel fabrication and test facilities where fuel samples can be fabricated and irradiated in a pressurized water loop of the National Research Universal reactor at operating conditions close to prototypic for a power reactor. AECL facilities also can accommodate post-irradiation examination of irradiated fuel samples," he explained.

The initial cooperation agreement is non-exclusive, freeing both parties to work with other fuel fabrication or development partners should they wish.

An October 2013 memorandum of understanding saw Lightbridge and Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear Energy agree to work together on developing a pilot fabrication facility to demonstrate the feasibility of manufacturing the fuel rods. In May, Lightbridge said that the companies were still working to evaluate the potential of using an existing Babcock & Wilcox facility for fabrication of metallic fuel samples for irradiation testing.

Lightbridge's advanced metallic fuel is made from a zirconium-uranium (Zr-U) alloy and uses a unique composition and fuel rod geometry enabling it to operate at a higher power density than uranium oxide fuels in use today. The multi-lobed metallic fuel rod design and fuel assemblies has been patented in the USA and received its first international patent in July.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News