Lightbridge and Areva join forces on metallic nuclear fuel

16 March 2016

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.

In a statement yesterday, Virginia, USA-based Lightbridge said the two companies are to agree on the terms and conditions to complete the remaining scope of work, as well as a technology licensing arrangement and other agreements needed to form and operate the joint venture company. The companies have agreed to work exclusively together in the area covered by the JDA, which will remain in force until the formation of the joint venture or 31 December at the latest.

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. "With today's agreement with Areva NP, we are confident that we remain on track to meet that goal," Grae said.

In a separate statement yesterday, Lightbridge provided an update on its nuclear fuel commercialization plan as well as a business update and its financial results for 2015.

Recent highlights for the company, in addition to its agreement with Areva, include the initial services agreement it has entered into with BWXT Nuclear Energy "to evaluate the ability to fabricate and prepare a preliminary plan" for fabrication of Lightbridge-designed partial length nuclear fuel samples at BWXT facilities in the USA. Others include the Institute for Energy Technology's receipt of formal regulatory approval from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority for all planned irradiation of Lightbridge's metallic fuel at the Halden research reactor in Norway, which is expected to begin in 2017; and the fact that four of the largest US nuclear power plant operators "continue to advise" Lightbridge on its nuclear fuel program, and recently expanded their support to include expert technical advice on regulatory licensing activities.

Grae said: "Not only have we met all the key fuel development milestones that were set for the year but we also have exceeded our expectations in terms of progress toward commercial deployment of our metallic fuel into the market. Our original goal was to have a commercial fuel manufacturing arrangement in place in late 2017 or 2018, but current progress may lead to a final long-term commercial arrangement with one or more fuel manufacturers well ahead of schedule."

He added that the company's commercial goals are "closely aligned with government priorities". The Paris agreement reached at the 21st Conference of Parties in December commits virtually all countries to reduce CO2 emissions and the US Clean Power Plan allows credit for new nuclear power plants and power uprates to existing nuclear power plants, he noted. "We believe these credits for power uprates will provide further support for our fuel in the US, making it even more economically attractive to nuclear utilities," he said. "Other countries are preparing plans that we expect will include similar provisions as the US. We look forward to announcing additional partnerships and support for our next generation fuel technology from the global nuclear power community."

For the year ended 31 December 2015, Lightbridge's net loss was $4.3 million, compared with a net loss the previous year of $3.7 million. The company's cash flows used in operating activities last year were $3.7 million versus $4.3 million in 2014, a decline of about 14%.

Lightbridge noted that the commercial nuclear energy industry is "projected to grow rapidly at a time of rising global demand for reliable, carbon-free, base load electric power". Citing the World Nuclear Association, it noted that there are 436 operable civil nuclear reactors in 30 countries around the world, with 67 reactors under construction and 488 on order, planned or proposed.

Lightbridge, which will hold a conference call to discuss its financial results tomorrow, said it plans to further minimize costs and dilution to its shareholders "through alliances with fuel vendors, fuel manufacturers and other strategic partners".

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News