Enfission JV to commercialise Lightbridge metallic fuel

26 January 2018

Lightbridge's innovative metallic nuclear fuel technology is the most cost-effective way to add clean power to the grid, and is less expensive than wind, solar or natural gas, the company's CEO Seth Grae said yesterday. He was speaking at the launch of Enfission, the joint venture set up with Framatome to develop, license and sell nuclear fuel assemblies based on the Lightbridge-designed technology.

Lightbridge's Seth Grae, on the left, and Framatome Inc's Gary Mignona sign the joint venture agreement (Image: @FramatomeUS)

Lighbtridge's technology aims to make existing and new nuclear power plants significantly more economical and safer, Grae said. Its deployment could add "meaningful amounts" of clean power without having to build new reactors. This, he said, would help to justify the economic case for existing plants to continue in operation, and to extend their operating licences, but also helping to justify the economic case for building new units.

The joint venture comes at an important time as nuclear power plants in the USA and elsewhere are struggling to compete with gas-fired plants, Grae said.

"Independent analyses have shown that switching to using Lightbridge's innovative fuel technology is the most cost-effective way to add clean power to the grid- less expensive than adding wind, or solar, or even less expensive than generating that power by adding natural gas or coal power," he said. "We've started our aggressive push to commercialise the new nuclear fuel technology and make it available for nuclear power plants around the world."

Gary Mignogna, president and CEO of Framatome Inc, said Enfission and the partnership with Lightbridge are key to Framatome's mission to service and fuel today's fleet and advance the safety and economics of nuclear power. The two companies in 2016 launched an engineering task force to verify the promise of Lightbridge's fuel and had worked together for several years to refine the vision and details for Enfission, he said.

Frédéric Lelièvre, Framatome's senior executive vice president in charge of sales, regional platforms and the company's instrumentation and control business unit, said the technology would help plants to operate efficiently and competitively "for decades to come". He said Framatome would bring to the joint venture its infrastructure and diverse workforce of fuel design and manufacturing experts.

"Framatome will make significant contributions to the development of the fuel design through expertise in designing, building and licensing nuclear fuel and its library of knowhow, patents and intellectual property to apply to the development of the technology," he said.

Framatome was formed from the spin-off of Areva Group's nuclear reactor operations and is owned by is owned by the EDF Group (75.5%), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (19.5%) and Assystem (5%).

Reston, Virginia-based Lightbridge and Framatome - then Areva - in September 2017 signed a binding agreement to set up a joint venture to develop, manufacture and commercialise Lightbridge's advanced metallic fuel technology. The 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.

Irradiation testing of metallic fuel samples under commercial reactor operating conditions is to be carried out at Norway's Halden research reactor, operated by the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE). 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.

Speaking on Fox Business' Varney & Co yesterday, Grae said he expected the first use of the fuel in a US reactor would take place around 2021. Exelon, Duke, Dominion and Southern Company - which together own and operate more than half the country's nuclear reactors - are advising Lightbridge and have already notified the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to prepare to licence the fuel for use, he said.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News