Yesterday Lightbridge (NASDAQ: LTBR), which is developing an exciting metallic nuclear fuel rod that can both increase reactor output and improve the safety of today’s light water reactor fleet, formally signed onto a joint venture with one of the world’s largest nuclear companies, Framatome (formerly Areva NP).  This alliance—called Enfission—will combine Lightbridge’s innovative new technology with the Framatome’s know-how in commercializing and licensing nuclear fuel to bring a truly innovative new product to market over the next few years—a product that can significantly change the economics and of both new and existing plants.  Lightbridge CEO Seth Grae said during a January 25 joint venture announcement at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. that a “key advantage” of the company’s fuel is that it will help power reactor licensees operate units at costs comparable to or lower than natural gas- or coal-fired generators, as well as wind and solar generation.”

The joint venture signing was an exciting event, chaired by our very own blog author Amy Roma!  A video of the statements made at the joint venture signing can be found here.  Speakers included the leaders of Lightbridge, Framatome, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and Senator John Warner (Ret).  Senator Warner was also the Secretary of the Navy during the time of Admiral Rickover (the oft-known “father” of the US nuclear industry), and the two of them worked closely together to make today’s modern nuclear navy a reality.

The advanced nuclear fuel technology would work in existing and new nuclear reactors, improving their economics by increasing power output and enabling longer fuel cycles. The fuel’s innovative fuel design is markedly safer than the fuel currently used in reactors. Notably, the design could result in:

  • 10 percent power uprate and increase time between refueling outages for existing reactors.
  • 30 percent power uprate without increasing time between refueling outages for new reactors.

Under the 10 percent power uprate model, a customer with an 1100 MWe nuclear reactor would see an estimated annual gross economic benefit of about US$60 million.

The fuel would dramatically improve reactor safety. It is more accident tolerant and safer than current fuel because it:

  • Reduces fuel operating temperature.
  • Does not generate hydrogen gas.
  • Buys more time to restore active cooling during accidents.
  • Improves proliferation resistance of used fuel.
  • Enhances structural integrity of the fuel.

This alliance also showcases the potential for transformative change that can occur when innovative nuclear start-ups team with established experts—something we have blogged about in the past.

Shortly after the signing the CEO of Lightbridge Seth Grae gave a full-throated defense of nuclear power on Fox Business’s Varney and Company, and turned Stuart Varney from a skeptic to a supporter of nuclear power in 3 minutes!  Watch the video here to see the dramatic transformation, and the potential next-generation nuclear technologies have to change the public perception of nuclear.

For more information, please contact the authors.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently re-issued its request for information from potential NRC reactor applicants, entitled: “Process for Scheduling and Allocating Resources for Fiscal Years 2020 Through 2022 for the Review of New Licensing Applications for Light-Water Reactors and Non-Light-Water Reactors.”  It is designated as Regulatory Issue Summary (RIS) 2017-18.  For small modular and advanced reactor ventures, responding to the RIS is a low-cost means by which to engage with the NRC about your technology, and help the agency improve its resource allocation for new reactor licensing.

This periodic RIS, last issued in the middle of 2016, is used to help the NRC schedule and allocate its limited resources for new reactor development.  It was created following the Vogtle and Summer AP1000 reactor licensing process, in order to facilitate pre-licensing interaction.  In particular, the agency must budget years in advanced for expected application activity—for example, although we are just at the start of 2018, this RIS will be used to determine budget allocations as far out as FY2022.  The document itself contains a further background as to its development and purpose.

The questions are relatively straightforward, and responders can request that certain information be withheld as proprietary.  Questions include:

  • What types of NRC interactions do you plan to seek?
  • When do you plan to file an application?
  • What is the fuel type/basic design information?
  • Will you be part of a working group?
  • Who is assisting in the design?
  • Have you developed quality assurance plans and/or models that may need approvals or analyses?

There is no deadline for a response, but we encourage potentially interested parties to submit a response to the NRC if they feel their design has matured to a certain threshold.  RIS responses provide the NRC with a mechanism to gain basic familiarity with new technologies under development (do not assume that they are already aware).  A healthy number of responses also allows the NRC to advocate for increased staffing for advanced reactor development in coming years.  Last but not least, the RIS itself provides some insight into what the NRC staff is looking for early on from reactor developers, and thus serves as a sanity check to make sure new ventures are doing all they can to ensure that a new technology will run into fewer licensing problems later (such as development quality assurance programs early on).

Nonetheless, despite its low risk, any response should be thought through as it likely represents one of the first significant written interactions with the agency.  We have helped multiple parties fashion responses to such information requests, and would be happy to talk further about any questions, as well as other ways to informally interact with agency staff.