US nuclear energy company the Lightbridge Corporation said on 5 July it had received approval for a key patent covering its metallic nuclear fuel rod design from the European Patent Office. Lightbridge said it will seek patent validation in key countries in the EU region, including France, the UK, Sweden, and others that already have a significant amount of nuclear generating capacity.
Lightbridge president and CEO Seth Grae said: "Europe has been a major focus for our fuel development and partnership initiatives. Importantly, the EU depends heavily on nuclear power for more than one-quarter of its electricity needs, and a higher proportion of its baseload power. In fact, nuclear provides over half of all of Europe's low-carbon electricity. Given the fact our fuel improves the operating economics and enhances the safety of nuclear reactors, we believe our technology will be central to Europe meeting both its baseload energy requirements and climate change goals in the years and decades to come."
In July 2015, Lightbridge signed an agreement that paved the way for irradiation testing and related activities of its metallic nuclear fuel design at Norway's Halden research reactor. Lightbridge said the contract with Norway's Institute for Energy Technology, for testing of a lead test fuel assembly at Halden, was a "strategic milestone toward generating data for regulatory approval of Lightbridge metallic nuclear fuel".Lightbridge also signed a nuclear safety training agreement with the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety (VARANS) for the first phase of a training programme in 2016. Lightbridge will provide training in the USA for up to eight VARANS officials over a two-week period to provide them with an understanding of inspection fundamentals for early procurement of nuclear components. The programme will also provide supplementary information to aid understanding and planning for early regulatory functions such as inspection of nuclear power plant construction, licensing, and capacity development. Lightbridge said that, as a part of the agreement, VARANS also requested that Lightbridge prepare a long-term and comprehensive training programme from 2017 to 2020. The agreement marks a significant expansion beyond previous interactions between VARANS and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and is part of a US initiative to form a strategic relationship with Vietnam.