Lightbridge and Centrus Energy to collaborate on pilot fuel fabrication facility

13 December 2023

US fuel technology company Lightbridge Corporation has announced a contract to conduct a front-end engineering & design (FEED) study to add a dedicated Lightbridge Pilot Fuel Fabrication Facility (LPFFF) at Centrus’s American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio. The FEED study will identify infrastructure and licensing requirements as well as the estimated cost and construction schedule for the LPFFF. Centrus’s wholly-owned subsidiary, American Centrifuge Operating (ACO), will lead the study, which is expected to be completed in 2024.

Centrus and Lightbridge will work towards creating high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) based fuels. HALEU fuel contains uranium enriched to 5-20% uranium-235 (higher than the 3-5% typically used in light water reactors). It is required by most of the advanced reactor designs being developed under DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP).

Centrus President & CEO Daniel B Poneman said: “Our plant in Ohio is the only HALEU production plant in the world outside of Russia and would be an ideal site for Lightbridge’s proposed facility. Since Lightbridge Fuel has the potential to bring HALEU and its benefits to the existing fleet of reactors, this partnership holds the potential to significantly expand the market for HALEU.”

Lightbridge President & CEO Seth Grae said the agreement “marks a landmark moment for Lightbridge as we take concrete steps towards establishing a pilot-scale facility to manufacture Lightbridge Fuel”. This facility “will be instrumental in paving the way for cleaner, safer, and more efficient nuclear energy by bringing HALEU to existing reactors as well as to new reactors, large and small.”

Lightbridge is developing Lightbridge Fuel, a proprietary next-generation nuclear fuel technology for existing light water reactors and pressurised heavy water reactors, which it says will significantly enhance reactor safety, economics, and proliferation resistance. The Company is also developing Lightbridge Fuel for new small modular reactors (SMRs).

Lightbridge has two long-term framework agreements with Battelle Energy Alliance, the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) operating contractor for Idaho National Laboratory (INL). DOE’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) programme has twice awarded Lightbridge to support the development of Lightbridge Fuel over the past several years. Lightbridge is also participating in two university-led studies through the DOE Nuclear Energy University Programme at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University. The company has an extensive worldwide patent portfolio.

Centrus Energy Corp made its first delivery of HALEU to DOE in November. This completed Phase One of its contract with DOE by demonstrating its HALEU production process. Phase Two requires a full year of HALEU production at the rate of 900 kilograms a year using ACO in Piketon. Centrus emerged from the restructuring of the US Enrichment Corporation (USEC) in 2014 and originally depended on supplies of uranium from Russia. In 2015 if modified the terms of the long-term supply contract they signed with Russia in 2011 and to extend the contractual relationship until 2026. However, as US policy became centres on reducing dependence on Russian supplies the focus has been on development on domestically produced HALEU.

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