Advanced Nuclear Fuel Developers Cite Progress

  • CNL & Moltex Energy Partner on SMR Fuel Research
  • Lightbridge Signs Cooperative R&D Agreement with DOE / GAIN at INL
  • BWXT Meets Technical Milestones Towards Production of TRISO Fuel Elements

Canadian National Laboratory Partners with Molten Salt Reactor Firm

Cnl magesA new research project will explore innovative fuel processing and development. It is funded through CNL’s Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative.  The Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), announced last week that it has entered into a collaboration agreement with Moltex Energy.

Funded through CNL’s Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative (CNRI), the agreement will support Moltex Energy’s nuclear fuel development program for its Stable Salt Reactor, a 300 MW small modular reactor (SMR) design.

The program will support the second and third phases of the Oxide Nuclear WAste Reduction Demonstration (ONWARD) project to explore the commercial viability of the WAste To Stable Salts (WATSS) technology to convert spent CANDU fuel into new fuel that can produce more clean energy from a Stable Salt Reactor. The first phase is already in progress.

Under the proposed CNRI project, Moltex Energy, the University of New Brunswick and CNL will design, build and optimize the test apparatus used to process the used fuel. In parallel, complementary activities will be carried out at the University of Manchester in the UK.

The data collected will support the design and licensing of a WATSS facility at Point Lepreau in New Brunswick for NB Power. As managers of spent fuel in Canada, New Brunswick Power and Ontario Power Generation will be involved in the project to provide advice and guidance.

More specifically, the CNRI project will see CNL supporting Moltex Energy on specialized equipment preparation, installation and commissioning. While the initial testing is conducted using surrogate inactive materials, CNL’s expertise is also supporting the planning, design, costing and safety analysis required to move the apparatus into a shielded facility, or “hot cell”, where the testing could be completed using actual fuels and active materials.

Ultimately, the data collected will support the design and licensing of a full-scale facility in New Brunswick being developed jointly by Moltex Energy, the Government of New Brunswick and NB Power.

“The financial support and technical expertise from CNL is important for the success of our project and will help us advance research and development,” said Rory O’Sullivan, CEO for North America at Moltex Energy.

Focus of CNRI Program

Launched in 2019, the CNRI program was established by CNL to accelerate the deployment of SMRs in Canada by enabling research and development, and connecting the SMR industry with the facilities and expertise within Canada’s national nuclear laboratories. Participants are able to optimize resources, share technical knowledge, and gain access to CNL’s expertise to help advance the commercialization of SMR technologies.

“CNL has built considerable expertise in nuclear fuel handling and processing over the past decades,” explains Jeff Griffin, CNL Vice-President of Science and Technology.

“Advanced fuel research is recognized as one of our key strategic areas of strength. We have made significant investments into our fuel program and will continue to do so over the coming years. The CNRI program helps reactor developers – such as Moltex Energy – tap into these key capabilities in a cost-effective way.”

Many of the modular reactor designs under development or consideration in Canada utilize evolutionary – or even revolutionary – fuels and manufacturing processes. These advances in fuels promise greater levels of efficiency, safety and in the case of Moltex Energy, a reduction in fuel waste inventories. However, before these benefits are realized, research and development must be undertaken to prove out the concepts, and readiness of the technology for the nuclear licencing process.

CNRI is an annual program that invites organizations to submit proposals for cost-sharing R&D projects in support of SMR development. CNL received a strong response to the initial intake, including four applications from key vendors in the SMR industry in Canada and abroad. The agreement with Moltex Energy is the second project to reach this stage in the program.

Lightbridge Signs CRADA with DOE/GAIN/INL

Lightbridge Corporation (NASDAQ: LTBR), an advanced nuclear fuel technology company, has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC, the operating contractor of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The principal goal of this agreement is to design an experiment for irradiation of Lightbridge metallic fuel material samples in the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) at INL. The experiment will allow Lightbridge to measure the thermo-physical properties of Lightbridge Fuel [tm] material samples. The total project value of the CRADA is approximately $845,000, with three-quarters of this amount funded by DOE for the scope performed by INL.

lightbridge fuel

Lightbridge Fuel Profile & Uses

Lightbridge and INL will establish the test plan for measuring key thermo-physical properties of Lightbridge Fuel material both before and after irradiation in the ATR.

INL will then perform the detailed design and establish the safety case for the experiment in the ATR.

This will include the control of parameters such as thermal hydraulic capacity, maximum sample temperature, neutron fluence, and the physical location of the test capsules within the ATR. The output of this project will be the complete design and safety case needed for insertion of the experiment into the ATR. The timeline for the CRADA is 12 months from project initiation.

Seth Grae, President & CEO of Lightbridge Corporation, commented, “Through the GAIN program, Lightbridge will have the opportunity to collaborate with and access the world-class nuclear research capabilities at INL. We believe the work we accomplish with INL under this CRADA will further validate our Lightbridge Fuel technology, positioning the Company to advance in our development and commercialization efforts.”

According to a presentation to investors on the firm’s website,  the firm will initiate Lead Test Rod operation in a commercial reactor in a 2025-2027 timeframe.

BWXT Marks Progress Towards Production of TRISO Fuel


Cutaway Diagram of TRISO Fuel

(WNN) Restart activities at BWX Technologies Inc’s (BWXT) TRISO fuel manufacturing facility in Lynchburg, Virginia are progressing ahead of schedule, the company said last week.

It has completed the demonstration of the fuel kernel sintering process and plans to bring two additional furnaces online to meet projected production demand before restart activities are complete.

BWXT says it is the only US manufacturer of irradiation-tested uranium oxycarbide tristructural isotropic (TRISO) fuel using production-scale equipment. The company in October 2019 announced plans to restart and expand its existing TRISO production line to meet client interests in Department of Defense microreactors, space reactors and civil advanced reactors.

TRISO particles contain a spherical kernel of enriched uranium oxycarbide surrounded by layers of carbon and silicon carbide, which contains fission products. Such fuel can withstand extreme heat and has very low proliferation concerns and environmental risks. BWXT has cooperated with the US Department of Energy on the development and qualification of TRISO-based fuel for over he past 15 years.

In 2019 BWXT announced it had started the production of the uranium solutions which are a starting material for kernel formation. It has now also demonstrated the capability to form and sinter the uranium oxycarbide fuel kernels that serve as a precursor to the TRISO coating process, the company said. Sintering is the process of applying heat and pressure to form the solid kernel.

With the completion of these activities, BWXT is now focusing on bringing two additional furnaces online (an additional sintering furnace and a coating furnace) to meet projected production demand before restart activities are complete.

BWXT Nuclear Operations Group, Inc (NOG) was last month awarded a contract from the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to manufacture TRISO nuclear fuel to support the continued development of the Transformational Challenge Reactor, which will use a core of uranium nitride coated fuel particles within an advanced manufactured silicon carbide structure.

By co-locating the TRISO production line with other existing uranium processing capabilities, BWXT plans to have a vertically integrated facility capable of handling all TRISO-related needs from feedstock preparation through uranium recovery and purification.

According to an October 2019 press release, the firm the process of ramping up to production would take 12 months,

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