UK-based nuclear technology company newcleo and the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining a framework for collaboration on advanced nuclear research and development.

Newcleo says it is working to deliver innovative reactors, which will significantly reduce existing volumes of radioactive waste and plutonium, as well as end the need for further uranium mining for the long-term benefit of communities and the environment.

The first step of newcleo’s delivery roadmap is “to design and construct a first-of-a-kind mini 30 MWe lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR) to be deployed in France by 2030”. Newcleo says this will be rapidly followed by a 200 MWe commercial unit in the UK. At the same time, newcleo will directly invest in a mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) plant to fuel its reactors.

According to newcleo, the MOU “creates the foundation for collaborative activity on an expansive range of topics, including lead-cooled Fast Reactor (LFR) materials testing; mixed oxide (MOX) fuel development research; development of advanced reprocessing techniques and skills development for activities related to MOX fuel, and advanced reprocessing research.

Newcleo Chairman and CEO Stefano Buono said NNL “has been a driving force behind innovation in our industry in the UK, and their support in our mission and commitment to pushing forward advanced nuclear technologies makes them excellent to work alongside as we progress in our UK-based activities”.

NNL Vice President of Government & New Build Gareth Headdock said advanced nuclear technology is a critical enabler for the world to meet its net zero goals. “As the UK’s national laboratory for nuclear fission, our scientists and engineers engage with all organisations developing reactors and fuels to further progress the development of these technologies to market.”

Newcleo, launched in 2021, says its mission “is to generate safe, clean, economic and practically inexhaustible energy for the world, through a radically innovative combination of existing, accessible technologies”. It claims to “capitalise on 30 years of R&D activity in metal-cooled fast reactors and liquid-lead cooling systems. Newcleo says its reactor design “has been optimised over the last 20 years leading to the concept of an ultra-compact and transportable 200 MWe module with improvements in energy density compared to other technologies”.

Currently the only operating liquid metal-cooled fast reactors are in Russia, using sodium as the coolant. However, Russia is also constructing the world’s first lead-cooled small modular reactor (Brest-OD-300) in Seversk as part of a facility to demonstrate an on-site closed fuel cycle, including novel fuel fabrication. This reactor, based on decades of research supported by the entire Russian nuclear industry, is due to begin operation in 2029.