Export licence granted for Lightbridge fuel

19 October 2015

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.

Norway's 25 MW Halden reactor set 100 metres into a rock hillside (Image: IFE)

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.

The IFE's safety committee approved Lightbridge's planned loop irradiation experiment in late September, the company said. The IFE now plans to submit a safety report on the Lightbridge-designed metallic fuel samples to the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, as part of an application for regulatory approval of the loop irradiation experiment in the Halden reactor.

The metal fuel is to be fabricated and initial irradiation testing carried out at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories' (CNL) Chalk River facilities under an initial cooperation agreement signed in October 2014. A subsequent enabling agreement signed last month cleared the way for fabrication of a test sample to begin. Lightbridge has confirmed that initial task and purchase orders have now been issued with both CNL and the IFE, and that work is currently underway on both projects in accordance with the overall project plan.

The initial phase of irradiation testing is expected to begin in early 2017 and continue for about three years to reach the burnup necessary for insertion of lead test assemblies (LTAs) in a commercial power reactor. The final phase of irradiation testing necessary for batch reloads and full cores operating with a 10% power uprate and a 24-month cycle is expected to take an additional two years and be completed while LTAs have begun operating in the core of a commercial power reactor.

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.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News