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Lightbridge Inks Strategic Partnerships with INL for Advanced Nuclear Fuel Testing

Dan Yurman's picture
Editor & Publisher, NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy

Publisher of NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy online since 2007.  Consultant and project manager for technology innovation processes and new product / program development for commercial...

  • Member since 2018
  • 1,599 items added with 1,247,561 views
  • Dec 19, 2022
  • 430 views
  • Lightbridge Inks Strategic Partnership with INL
  • GAIN Announces 1st Round FY23 Nuclear Energy Vouchers
  • HALEU Fuel Delays Set Back TerraPower’s Natrium Reactor by Two Years
  • Canada’s Portland Holdings to Invest $350M in Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation
  • UK / £77 Million Funding for Advanced Reactors & Nuclear Fuel

Lightbridge Inks Strategic Partnership with INL

Lightbridge Corporation (Nasdaq: LTBR), an advanced nuclear fuel technology company, has entered into two long sought agreements with Idaho National Laboratory (INL), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), to support the development of Lightbridge Fuel.

The framework agreements use an innovative structure and consist of an “umbrella” Strategic Partnership Project Agreement (SPP) and an “umbrella” Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), each with Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC (BEA), DOE’s operating contractor for INL, with an initial duration of seven years.

The initial phase of work under the two agreements will culminate in irradiation testing in the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) of fuel samples using enriched uranium supplied by DOE.

lightbridge fuel assembly

The initial phase of work aims to generate irradiation performance data for Lightbridge’s delta-phase uranium-zirconium alloy relating to various thermophysical properties. The data will support fuel performance modeling and regulatory licensing efforts for the commercial deployment of Lightbridge Fuel.

It is anticipated that subsequent phases of work under the two umbrella agreements will include post-irradiation examination of the irradiated fuel samples, loop radiation testing in the ATR, and post-irradiation examination of one or more uranium-zirconium fuel rodlets, as well as transient experiments in the Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT) at INL.

Seth Grae, President and CEO of Lightbridge, said: “Today’s announcement marks a major milestone for Lightbridge and our fuel development program. We look forward to working closely with INL. Securing a long-term strategic relationship with INL, in collaboration with DOE, gives Lightbridge access to state-of-the-art ATR and TREAT reactor test facilities right here in the United States.”

More Access to Nuclear Testing Facilities is Needed

vtr-logo.pngLike many US firms developing advanced reactors and the fuels needed to operate them, Lightbridge has had long standing concerns about timely access to the Advanced Test Reactor for fuels testing and a planned successor facility – the Versatile Test Reactor.

The DOE’s efforts to kickstart work to build the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) have not progressed due to Congress zeroing out funding for it two years in a row. The Department of Energy seems unable to make the funding case for the plant with Congress although the Biden Administration is providing additional funding in 2023 for existing nuclear test facilities.

DOE submitted a modest funding proposal of $45 million to fund work on VTR for fiscal year 2023. Also, as part of a renewed effort to justify the project, INL collaborated with the American Nuclear Society to devoted an entire issue of a peer reviewed journal on nuclear energy to the nuclear scientific and engineering mission of the proposed facility.

In terms of the request for $45 million, if DOE gets it, this is no time for half measures. The advice of this blog to INL, the Department of Energy, and its partners on the VTR, is to set up a presence in Washington, DC, and use some of that $45M to pay for a world class plan to convince Congress that U.S. energy security depends on building the VTR.

If they don’t do it, the US will pay a steep price in terms of degraded global nuclear energy security which will impose a price far greater than the cost of building the reactor. Congress needs to get in the picture with advocacy in the House and Senate by energy related committees and for the national security interests of the nation.

$150 Million for Enhanced Nuclear R&D at INL

The Biden-Harris Administration, through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), announced $150 million in funding provided by President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act for infrastructure improvements at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to enhance nuclear energy research and development. The funding will support nearly a dozen R & D projects at INL’s Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) and Materials Fuels Complex (MFC).

Infrastructure upgrades at both facilities are expected to be completed within the next 4 to 5 years and will include improvements to water and electrical distribution systems, process control systems, and roof replacements to improve research facility reliability and operability. However, without a new test loop at the ATR, US developers will continue to take their requirements overseas to preserve their time to market objectives.

& & &

GAIN Announces 1st Round FY23 Nuclear Energy Vouchers

gain logoThe Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) announced today that four companies will be provided a GAIN Nuclear Energy (NE) Voucher to accelerate the innovation and application of advanced nuclear technologies. NE vouchers provide advanced nuclear technology innovators with access to the extensive nuclear research capabilities and expertise available across the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory complex. This is the first award for FY 2023.

gain voucher

GAIN NE voucher recipients do not receive direct financial awards. Vouchers provide funding to DOE laboratories to help businesses overcome critical technological and commercialization challenges. All awardees are responsible for a minimum 20 percent cost share, which could be an in-kind contribution.

The GAIN NE Voucher Program accepts applications on innovation that supports production and utilization of nuclear energy (e.g., for generation of electricity, supply of process heat, etc.) in the following general topic areas:

  • Analysis and evaluation of, and for, advanced reactor concepts and associated designs, including development of R&D based licensing technical requirements or regulatory strategies
  • Structural material and component development, testing and qualification
  • Advanced nuclear fuel development, fabrication and testing (includes fuel materials and cladding)
  • Development, testing, and qualification of instrumentation, controls, and sensor technologies that are hardened for harsh environments and secured against cyber intrusion
  • Modeling and simulation, high-performance computing, codes and methods
  • Technical assistance from subject matter experts and/or data/information to support technology development and/or confirm key technical or licensing issues

Further information on the GAIN nuclear energy voucher program as well as current and all past awards may be found here.

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE) established GAIN to provide the nuclear community with the technical, regulatory, and financial support necessary to move innovative nuclear energy technologies toward commercialization while ensuring the continued safe, reliable, and economic operation of the existing nuclear fleet. Through GAIN, DOE is making its state-of-the-art and continuously improving RD&D infrastructure available to stakeholders to achieve faster and cost-effective development of innovative nuclear energy technologies toward commercial readiness.

& & &

HALEU Fuel Delays Set Back TerraPower’s Natrium Reactor by Two Years

terrapower logo(WNN) TerraPower has said it expects operation of the Natrium demonstration reactor to be delayed by at least two years because there will not be sufficient commercial capacity to manufacture high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel in time to meet the proposed 2028 in-service date.

The company’s CEO and President Chris Levesque said in a press statement that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February caused “the only commercial source of HALEU fuel to no longer be a viable part of the supply chain.”

“TerraPower is anticipating a minimum of a two-year delay to being able to bring the Natrium reactor into operation.”

The company has since then been working with the US Department of Energy (DOE), Congressional allies, and project stakeholders to explore potential alternative sources, and said in a press statement,  “while we are working now with Congress to urge the inclusion of $2.1 billion to support HALEU in the end of year government funding package, it has become clear that domestic and allied HALEU manufacturing options will not reach commercial capacity in time to meet the proposed 2028 in-service date for the Natrium demonstration plant.”

Kemmerer, WY, was selected in 2021 as the preferred site for the Natrium demonstration project, featuring a 345 MWe sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. TerraPower said it remains fully committed to the project and is “moving full steam ahead” on construction of the plant, licensing applications and engineering and design work.

Initial site work scheduled to begin in Spring 2023 on the large sodium facility will continue as planned, and TerraPower expects “minimal disruption” to the current projected start-of-construction date.

Private funding of more than $830 million raised by the company this year and $1.6 billion appropriated by the US Congress for the project will be used to complete the Natrium demonstration plant.

HALEU fuel is enriched to between 5% and 20% uranium-235, and will be needed to fuel most of the next-generation advanced reactor designs. The DOE has projected a national need for more than 40 tonnes of HALEU before the end of the decade to support the current administration’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035.

Recent HALEU Fuel Developments

DOE recently awarded CENTRUS subsidiary American Centrifuge Operating LLC a $150 million cost-shared, two-phase, contract to complete and bring online a demonstration cascade of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges at Piketon in Ohio, which is currently the only US facility which is licensed to produce HALEU, and to run it for a year at an annual production rate of 900 kg of HALEU.

On 10/21/22 Global Nuclear Fuel–Americas (GNF-A), a GE-led joint venture, and TerraPower announced an agreement to build the Natrium Fuel Facility at the site of GNF-A’s existing plant site near Wilmington, NC. The facility represents an investment of more than $200 million. The project will break ground in 2023.

The enriched uranium from CENTRUS will be in gaseous UF6 form and must be converted to a solid form and then fabricated to meet the uranium metal fuel specifications needed by the Natrium reactor.

Separately, TerraPower and PacifiCorp recently announced a plan to jointly study the feasibility of adding up to five additional commercial Natrium reactors by 2035. The five new plants, if committed to being built, will add to short-and-long term demand for HALEU fuel.

& & &

Canada’s Portland Holdings to Invest $350M in Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation

Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, a US-based developer of a fourth-generation gas-cooled microreactor, and Portland Holdings Investco Limited (Portland), a privately held investment firm based in Burlington, Ontario, Canada, announced that they have entered into an MOU to advance Ultra Safe Nuclear’s Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR) energy systems.

Under the terms of the agreement, Portland, its affiliates, and related entities will invest up to US$350 million in Ultra Safe Nuclear, aiming to bring MMR technology solutions to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the Caribbean regions.

The timing of commitment of investment funds was not released. Also, Ultra Safe did not identify the projects that would use the funding.

Finland Agreement

World Nuclear News reported that Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology to explore the deployment of a Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR) in Lappeenranta. This project appears to be entirely independent of the announced funding from Portland Holdings.

Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) plans to deploy an MMR as a research and test reactor at or near its campus in the city of Lappeenranta in southern Finland. The reactor will be operated as a training, research and demonstration facility. It will be connected to the district heating network of Lappeenrannan Energia, the local municipal utility, to provide carbon-free district heating to the university, city and surrounding area.

The MMR research and test reactor will test new technologies to decarbonize energy production, microgrid integration, and help train the future workforce through hands-on experience with a next-generation high-temperature gas-cooled microreactor.

About the USNC MMR

USNC’s MMR is a 15 MW thermal, 5 MW electrical high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, drawing on operational experience from reactors developed by China, Germany, Japan and the USA. It consists of two plants: the nuclear plant that generates heat, and the adjacent power plant that converts heat into electricity or provides process heat for industrial applications.

The USNC system is designed to be simple, with minimal operation and maintenance requirements, and no on-site fuel storage, handling or processing. The MMR uses TRISO fuel in prismatic graphite blocks and has a sealed transportable core.

The MMR is at an advanced licensing stage at the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited’s Chalk River Laboratories campus in Ontario. The project is a collaboration between USNC and Ontario Power Generation through the jointly owned Global First Power Limited Partnership.

The project at LUT joins the growing list of global training, test, and research MMR projects at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the USA and at McMaster University in Canada.

& & &

UK / £77 Million Funding for Advanced Reactors & Nuclear Fuel

(NucNet) The UK government has announced new funding to support clean energy production in the UK, including the development of next generation reactors, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent impact on global energy prices. The war in Ukraine, and sanctions imposed on Russia over its unprovoked invasion, has bottled up sources of nuclear fuel that used to be available.

The funding includes £77 million (€89m) to bolster nuclear fuel production and support the development of the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors, along with £25 million for technologies that can produce hydrogen from sustainable biomass and waste, while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

High Temperature Gas Reactors

The government said it was committing to new and innovative nuclear energy with funding worth up to £60 million to kick start the next phase of research into high temperature gas reactors (HTGRs), a type of advanced modular reactor which could be up and running by the early 2030s. The funding aims to get a demonstration project of the engineering design up and running by the end of the decade.

htgr2_ns_thumb.jpg

HTGRs are typically smaller than conventional nuclear power stations, more flexible, and could be built at a lower a cost than full size PWRs. HTGRs will bolster the UK’s energy sovereignty and security by reducing reliance on expensive fossil fuels, as well as generate by-products such as low-carbon hydrogen.

By generating very high temperatures, HTGRs provide a source of clean, high temperature heat that could help decarbonize industrial processes in the UK.

tem range htgr apps

The funding for HTGR innovation is supported with a further £4m for a project to “facilitate knowledge capture and sharing” to reduce the time, risk, and cost of advanced modular reactor delivery.

Aim Is To Make UK Less Reliant On Imports

  • The government also announced up to £13 million for nuclear fuel fabricators

Westinghouse in Preston, which has strategic importance to producing fuel for the current UK advanced gas-cooled reactor fleet.

The funding will mean the UK has the option of being less reliant on imports from abroad and helps the company develop the capability convert both reprocessed uranium and freshly mined uranium to make new fuel at the Westinghouse Springfields site.

As well as bolstering UK energy security, ministers hope it will also deliver export opportunities for the sector and position the UK as a key international supplier of nuclear fuel and fuel cycle services.

The news comes two weeks after ministers announced the first state backing of a nuclear project in over 30 years, with a £700 millions stake in Sizewell C in Suffolk.

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Discussions
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 19, 2022

Lots of exciting projects being funded by DOE in the nuclear space, and if anything the fusion breakthrough goes to show that these types of investments can and will pay off

Dan Yurman's picture
Thank Dan for the Post!
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