US utilities endorse novel nuclear fuel

19 May 2015

A group of US electric utilities has formally expressed interest in Lightbridge Corporation's novel metallic fuel design to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In a letter to the regulator dated 14 April, the Nuclear Utility Fuel Advisory Board (NUFAB) said it believed the fuel provided opportunities to improve safety and fuel cycle economics significantly. NUFAB's members include Dominion, Duke Energy, Exelon and Southern Nuclear, and together they represent nearly half of the country's nuclear generating capacity. The NRC uses such communications to help in forward planning its staffing levels and budgets in anticipation of licensing applications reviews.

Lightbridge's metallic fuel is made from a zirconium-uranium (Zr-U) alloy and uses a unique composition with a multi-lobed and helically twisted rod geometry. The design offers improved heat transfer properties, enabling it to operate at a higher power density than uranium oxide fuels in use today.

NUFAB made its submission to NRC ahead of an application for the use of the fuel in lead test assemblies, which is expected to be submitted in 2017. The test assemblies could be inserted into an operating US pressurized water reactor (PWR) as early as 2020.

Fabricated samples of the fuel are expected to undergo full irradiation testing under prototypical PWR conditions in a pressurized water loop of Norway's 25 MW Halden research reactor, starting in 2017. Post-irradiation examinations of those samples will be used to support the application to the NRC, NUFAB said.

Lightbridge is also finalising a comprehensive agreement with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd subsidiary Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) for fabrication of fuel samples at CNL's Chalk River facilities, after signing an initial cooperation agreement in October 2014. The agreement is expected to see fabrication and characterization of prototype fuel rods using depleted uranium in early 2016, with irradiation fuel samples using enriched uranium made later the same year.

Lightbridge president and CEO Seth Grae said the utilities' expression of interest was the fuel's "strongest endorsement to date" from potential customers.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News