US nuclear fuel development company Lightbridge and France’s Areva NP, a leader in nuclear fuel, components and reactor services, have agreed terms for the establishment of a new joint venture (JV) to develop, manufacture and commercialise fuel assemblies based on Lightbridge's metallic nuclear fuel technology. The companies signed a term sheet on 31 October, outlining key agreements for a US-based 50-50 joint venture to cover fuel assemblies for most types of light water reactors, including pressurised water reactors (PWRs), boiling water reactors (BWRs), small modular reactors (SMRs) and research reactors. The JV should be finalised in the coming months.

Lightbridge CEO Seth Grae said the agreement was a major milestone for Lightbridge and “is further validation of the growing global interest in and demand for our nuclear fuel technology”. Lionel Gaiffe, senior executive vice president of the Fuel Business Unit for Areva NP said: "We look forward to advancing nuclear fuel performance through this relationship, combining AREVA NP's expertise in nuclear fuel design and fabrication with Lightbridge's innovative metallic nuclear fuel concept." He added: "Next-generation fuel technology has significant potential to help sustain existing nuclear energy assets, which will serve as the foundation for a clean energy portfolio worldwide."

In March, Lightbridge announced that the two companies has signed a Joint Development Agreement (JDA) to form the JV but still needed 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 new joint company. The  JDA will remain in force until the formation of the joint venture or 31 December at the latest.

Lightbridge's advanced metallic fuel is made from a zirconium-uranium 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 current use. In January, Lightbridge received final regulatory approval for irradiation testing of its metallic fuel at Norway's Halden research reactor, which is expected to begin in 2017.