US nuclear fuel technology company Lightbridge Corporation and France’s Framatome (formerly Areva) on 25 January finalised and launched Enfission, a 50-50 joint venture company to develop, license and sell nuclear fuel assemblies. The two companies had already begun joint fuel development and regulatory licensing work under previously signed agreements initiated in March 2016. The joint venture is a Delaware-based limited liability company.

Lightbridge is developing nuclear fuel with more surface area which can enable existing reactors to generate 10-40% more energy by changing the shape of the fuel. Lightbridge and Framatome (then Areva), in September 2017, signed an agreement to set up a joint venture to develop, manufacture and commercialise Lightbridge’s advanced metallic fuel. The fuel is made from a zirconium-uranium alloy and uses a unique composition and fuel rod geometry, which the company says offers improvements to the economics, efficiency and safety of existing and new nuclear power plants.

Lightbridge said its metal fuel (AMF) assembly could provide up to 17% increase in power output in existing pressurised water reactors (PWRs) and up to a 30% power uprate in new reactors operating on 18-month fuel cycles. Due to specific constraints associated with the size of equipment that can fit in the containment structures of existing PWRs, there are limits as to the maximum power uprate level existing PWRs can accommodate without changing their existing containment structure. However, a new build unit can be constructed with a larger containment to allow for higher capacity equipment with a relatively small capital cost increase.

Lightbridge is developing three primary all-metal nuclear fuel product offerings for power uprates and longer fuel cycles: LTB17-1024™ fuel for up to 10% power uprates and 24-month operating cycles in existing PWRs; LTB17-1718™ fuel for up to 17% power uprates and 18-month operating cycles in existing PWRs; and LTB17-3018™ fuel for up to 30% power uprates and 18-month operating cycles in new-build PWRs. Also, Lightbridge is developing LTB17-Th18™ thorium-based seed and blanket fuel, which offers significant back-end advantages and enhanced proliferation resistance of used fuel. Lightbridge said its initial target market worldwide is approximately 127GWe and is projected to grow to 261GWe by 2030.

Lightbridge CEO Seth Grae said he expected the first use of the fuel in a US reactor would take place around 2021. Lightbridge has received final regulatory approval for irradiation testing of its metallic fuel at Norway’s Halden research reactor. The company has also entered an agreement with US fabricator BWXT Nuclear Energy to evaluate the possible fabrication of fuel samples at BWXT’s US facilities.