Chicago-based Clean Core Thorium Energy (CCTE) has completed Phase 1 of the pre-licensing Vendor Design Review (VDR) process with Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). No issues were identified by CNSC that could present a fundamental barrier to the licensing of Clean Core’s ANEEL fuel in Canada.

The fuel is made of thorium and high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), developed for use in pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) and Canada deuterium uranium (Candu) reactors. Clean Core says the fuel can offer significantly improved performance with existing proven heavy water reactor systems by leveraging thorium’s inherently superior nuclear, thermal and physical properties. It also retains the same external dimensions and configuration design as in currently used natural uranium (NU) fuel bundles. “Without any significant modifications to the reactor, the replacement of the currently used NU fuel bundles with Clean Core’s ANEEL fuel bundles can reduce life-cycle operating costs and waste volumes, increase safety and accident tolerance, and result in additional proliferation resistance,” the company notes.

Clean Core, founded in 2017, has been engaged with CNSC since 2022, including submissions across nine focus areas in the review, building a licensing basis and safety case for the fuel. Completion of Phase 1 pre-licensing represents “a major milestone for the company and nuclear industry as the first thorium-based fuel for Candu reactors to successfully complete this phase of the CNSC pre-licensing process for new fuel designs”. The process provided an opportunity for Clean Core to demonstrate understanding and compliance with Canadian licensing requirements and seek detailed feedback ahead of a formal licence application. “The work performed through the VDR and our engagements with the CNSC highlights Clean Core’s regulatory and commercial readiness, said Clean Core CEO & Founder Mehul Shah.

Clean Core has signed a Strategic Partnership Project Agreement with the US Department of Energy (DOE) and has begun irradiation testing and qualification in the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) at Idaho National Labs aiming to achieve planned burnup targets of up to 60 GWd per tonne.

As part of that agreement, INL has received more than 300 ANEEL fuel pellets fabricated by Texas A&M University's Department of Nuclear Engineering under INL's quality assurance requirements. INL has developed the irradiation test plan, performed pre-irradiation characterisation of the fuel pellets, designed and fabricated the experiment hardware and test trains, assembled the test trains, and finally inserted the experiment into the ATR. As each planned burn-up target is achieved, the test capsules containing irradiated ANEEL pellets will be sent to INL's Materials & Fuels Complex for destructive and non-destructive post-irradiation examination.

Michael Worrall, a nuclear engineer at INL and Principal Investigator for the CCTE-ANEEL-1A experiment said: "Irradiating homogeneously blended thorium and uranium oxide in ATR is a first-of-a kind experiment for INL and the US DOE. We are excited to see the potential of the ANEEL fuel technology and what the future of this technology holds."

Image: The Clean Core team (left to right) – Paul Chan (CTO), Paul Thompson (Executive Advisor), Michael Binder (Executive Advisor), Mehul Shah (CEO)