France’s Framatome and US-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) signed an agreement at the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris to establish a joint venture (JV) to provide nuclear fuel for USNC’s Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR) and other advanced reactor designs. The fuel supply will include commercial quantities of Tri-structural Isotropic (TRISO) particles and USNC’s proprietary Fully Ceramic Microencapsulated (FCM) fuel.

The JV will be managed by a board of directors comprising senior leadership from both companies. Framatome will leverage its expertise, proven infrastructure, and mature programmes to ensure that USNC’s processes are efficiently deployed and operating, while USNC will bring technical manufacturing capabilities and expertise. The JV will deliver finished TRISO-based fuel products, meeting the demands of USNC’s fleet as well as others in the advanced reactors market.

Framatome CEO Bernard Fontana said by combining Framatome’s manufacturing expertise and experience in regulatory compliance, and USNC’s advanced reactor designs, “we are ready to support rapid expansion of fourth-generation nuclear power to meet the projected growth and demand for safe, reliable, clean energy in the US and global markets”.

Framatome’s manufacturing and regulatory licensing are being amended to incorporate USNC’s codified processes similar to USNC’s operating Pilot Fuel Manufacturing Facility (PFM) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee – the only private sector capability in the Western Hemisphere currently manufacturing TRISO-based nuclear fuels. Framatome has notified the US Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRC) of its intent to submit the amendment in summer 2024 and has conducted the pre-licensing briefing with NRC personnel.

Francesco Venneri, CEO of Ultra Safe Nuclear said the JV “brings Framatome’s high-quality capabilities and high-confidence capacity together with Ultra Safe Nuclear’s breakthrough fuel technologies and intrinsically safe design to fuel the MMR”.

The MMR Energy System design is a fourth-generation nuclear energy system that can operate at various power levels from 10 to 45 MWt to deliver electricity and process heat. The MMR is being licensed in Canada and the US and USNC says it will be the first commercially available "nuclear battery”. MMR deployments are moving forward, including projects at Chalk River, on target for first power in 2028, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, targeted for first power the same year. The joint venture plans to manufacture TRISO particles and FCM fuel starting in 2026. The creation of the JV is currently subject to regulatory approval in the US.

Image: Framatome's CEO Bernard Fontana and USNC's Executive Vice President Kurt Terrani following the joint venture announcement (courtesy of Framatome)