UK-based nuclear start-up newcleo has signed a partnership agreement with the French Alternative Energies & Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) on development of newcleo's lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR).

Newcleo said the collaboration marks a major step forward in the realisation of its LFR project and covers the following areas:

  • Development scenarios for LFR reactors in the French nuclear power fleet
  • Fuel qualification
  • Calculation codes
  • Materials
  • Instrumentation and measurement

Newcleo stated its intention “to capitalise on France’s unique nuclear expertise and contribute to its international influence through partnerships with national public and private organisations”. Ludovic Vandendriesche, Managing Director of newcleo's French subsidiary, newcleo SA, said: "This partnership is a real catalyst for progress on our Generation IV reactor project."

Since its launch in 2021 newcleo has signed a long list of agreements, acquisitions and collaborations. Newcleo initially announced its incorporation with the closing of a $118m initial capital raising and the acquisition of Hydromine Nuclear Energy. In June 2022, it closed a €300m equity raise and contracted France's Orano for feasibility studies on the establishment of a mox production plant. In March 2023 a co-operation agreement was signed with Italy’s Enel to jointly work on its nuclear technology projects. Enel agreed to provide specialised expertise and newcleo agreed to secure an option for Enel as first investor in its first NPP.

This was rapidly followed by an equity raise of up to €1bn to fund further development. In July newcleo signed an agreement with Italy-based shipbuilder Fincantieri and certification multinational RINA to jointly study nuclear applications to the shipping industry. In August newcleo agreed to purchase the shares of nuclear pumps group Pompes Rütschi SAS and Rütschi Fluid AG (finalised in December) and in September signed an MOU with the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) for collaboration on advanced nuclear research and development.

October 2023 saw newcleo sign a cooperation agreement with the Tosto Group, a manufacturer of large components and pressure equipment in the chemicals, oil & gas and energy sectors, including nuclear. Newcleo also announced completion of its acquisition of Italy-based Servizi Ricerche e Sviluppo and of Fucina Italia, which focus on the design and building of nuclear systems deploying liquid lead technology. In November newcleo signed a five-year partnership with the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) to conduct advanced research into the economics of energy policy

In December newcleo said that it had been selected as part of the “Innovative Nuclear Reactors” call for projects under the “France 2030” investment plan and aims to commission a 30 MWe lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR 30) by 2030, as well as a pilot unit for the manufacture and multi-recycling of mixed oxide (mox) fuel for fast reactors. The project represents a total investment in France of €3bn ($3.3bn) between now and 2030. The company signed three strategic partnerships at the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris with Assystem, Ingérop and Onet Technologies to develop technology France.

This was followed in January 2024 by a strategic and industrial partnership with French micro-reactor developer Naarea and in March a strategic partnership with Viaro Energy, a London-based independent upstream energy company.

Following the construction of the LFR-30 and MOX plant in France, Newcleo is planning to construct a 200 MWe first-of-a-kind commercial unit (the LFR-AS-200) in the UK by 2033. Earlier in April the Nuclear Industry Association applied to the UK government for a justification decision for Newcleo's LFR-AS-200. Such a decision is one of the required steps for the operation of a new nuclear technology in the country.

The newcleo website now includes a mock-up of its reactor design and some additional technical information. Newcleo says it relies on more than 20 years of experience on lead technology, based on an agreement with Italy’s ENEA. Newcleo 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, however, the only operating liquid metal-cooled fast reactors are in Russia, using sodium as the coolant. 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 complex research and development, and supported by the entire Russian nuclear industry, is due to begin operation in 2029. As yet, despite its rapidly growing list of acquisitions and co-operation agreements and optimistic timeline, newcleo’s technology remains in the very early conceptual design stage.