- BNF Capital Takes 10.7% Equity Stake in Lightbridge
- Centrus Completes Construction and Initial Testing of HALEU Demonstration Cascade
- Fermi Energia Selects GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 SMR for Estonia
- Rolls-Royce SMR Signs Agreement in Poland for its 470MW PWR
- Sheffield Forgemasters to Collaborate with Holtec for SMRs
BNF Capital Takes 10.7% Equity Stake in Lightbridge
Lightbridge Corp announced last week that it had received a significant investment by BNF Capital, a London-based family office owned by the Anglo-French Perrodo family, with significant investments in the energy sector.
Lightbridge is an advanced nuclear fuel technology development company. The investment was revealed via a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) on 01/19./2023.
The company is developing Lightbridge Fuel, a proprietary next-generation nuclear fuel technology for Small Modular Reactors (SMS), as well as existing light-water reactors, which significantly enhances reactor safety, economics, and fuel proliferation resistance.
Lightbridge (LBTR:NASDAQ) closed on Friday 02/10/2023 at $4.09/share with a market cap of $47,378,000 with 11.58 million shares outstanding. A year ago on 02/07/2022 the stock was listed at $10.54/share. For the 12-month period Feb 2022 to Feb 2023, the stock recorded a high of $12.56/share and a low of $3.62/share.
According to the SEC filing on 01/31/23, BNF purchased 1,241,165 shares at $4.26/share which is of interest since the stock on average hasn’t cracked $4.50/share since September 2022. The stock purchase does not provide new capital to Lightbridge.
In response to a question from Neutron Bytes as to why BNF Capital made the investment now, a spokesman for Lightbridge cited a press statement by Sean Benson, Portfolio Manager of BNF Capital.
“Our strategic shareholding in Lightbridge Corporation reflects the belief that nuclear power will play an essential role in the energy transition away from fossil fuels. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), where our investors have partnered with the leading UK technology, will drive this reality and advanced nuclear technology must include the fuel that will power such reactors.”
“Lightbridge Fuel clearly suits this investment thesis, as they rethink the nuclear fuel rod, making it safer, more efficient, and cost-effective while bringing operational benefits that current fuels cannot achieve. Their recent milestones with the American government have led us to believe that Lightbridge Fuel is progressing toward the goal of supplying batch reloads to existing large reactors as well as SMRs once commercially available.”
In addition to his role as portfolio manager of BNF Capital, Sean Benson is the portfolio manager and founder of the Tees River Funds, managing a dedicated Uranium fund and a Critical Resources fund. Benson sits on the board of directors of Rolls Royce SMR (Small Modular Reactors), where BNF Capital is also an investor.
In September 2021 BNF Capital and Exelon Corp participated in a the three-year, £195 million equity investment in Rolls-Royce to leverage a£210 million in U.K. Research and Innovation funding. These investment are unrelated to the announcement this week concerning Lightbridge.
As to what Lightbridge will do next, the firm pointed to its announcement of a strategic partnership with INL in December which gives it access to the ATR and TREAT test reactors. Lightbridge plans to test its innovative fuel at these facilities in pursuit of commercializing this technology. According to the agreement, DOE will supply Lightbridge with the enriched uranium required to conduct these tests.
About Lightbridge Fuel
Fabrication – Lightbridge Fuel has three components that are metallurgically bonded during the fabrication process. The bonding improves fuel rod integrity, thermal conductivity and eliminates a source of fission product release in the event of a bonded barrier breach. Importantly, this reduces potential radiation exposure for plant workers.
Shape – Lightbridge Fuel has a helical multi-lobe fuel rod which increases fuel surface area. At the same time, it reduces the distance it takes heat generated in the fuel rod to reach water, improving fuel cooling. Swelling occurs primarily in the valleys between the lobes to maintain the fuel rod diameter. (Image right: cross section of a fuel assembly)
Materials – The fuel core is uranium zirconium alloy with high thermal conductivity and low irradiation-induced swelling.
The metallurgically bonded barrier consists of corrosion-resistant zirconium-niobium alloy with variable thickness to increase protection at the lobe tips. The displacer contains burnable poison alloys for neutronics control.
Operations – Lightbridge Fuel has a low fuel operating temperature. Fission products behave like solids and remain where they are created. During design basis events, no fission products are released.
Proliferation – The fuel enrichment is level 15-20%, making it the lowest strategic value for proliferation potential. Lightbridge Fuel contains significantly less plutonium than conventional uranium oxide fuel and consumes more uranium during its operating cycle. Any plutonium in our spent fuel is “useless” for nuclear weapons.
Lightbridge Fuel May Outperform MOX in Plutonium Disposition
Lightbridge Corporation announced that a recently published peer-reviewed technical paper on the disposition of weapons-grade plutonium revealed that a Lightbridge-designed fuel rod significantly outperforms traditional mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in consuming plutonium in a computer simulation, making the Lightbridge designed rods well suited for consuming excess weapons-grade plutonium.
The paper was co-authored by Braden Goddard, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Aaron Totemeier, Ph.D., Senior Nuclear Fuel Consultant to Lightbridge, for Nuclear Technology (NT) published online on 01/27/2023.
The paper’s title is “Improved Disposition of Surplus Weapons-Grade Plutonium Using a Metallic Pu-Zr Fuel Design.”
The simulation detailed in the paper demonstrated that the Lightbridge plutonium disposition fuel variant consumes approximately 5.5 times more plutonium per fuel rod than MOX fuel. The high burnup of metallic fuel makes it particularly useful for consuming plutonium and reducing the material usefulness of the residual plutonium in the used fuel for weapons purposes.
The simulation utilized the design of a variant of Lightbridge Fuel, consisting of solid multi-lobe helically twisted metallic fuel rods (as opposed to the ceramic fuel rods currently used in nuclear power plants), which increases the fuel surface area, substituting the uranium-zirconium alloy with an equivalent plutonium-zirconium composition.
The proliferation resistance of Lightbridge Fuel rods has been presented previously in Nuclear Engineering and Design, a technical journal affiliated with the European Nuclear Society. This peer-reviewed paper reported the results of a study that showed that Lightbridge’s spent fuel could not be used by rogue nations to make nuclear weapons.
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Centrus Completes Construction and Initial Testing of HALEU Demonstration Cascade
Centrus Energy Corp. (NYSE:LEU) announced that it has completed construction of a cascade of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges as well as most of the associated support systems. This milestone puts Centrus on track to begin demonstrating first-of-a-kind production of High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) in Piketon, Ohio, by the end of 2023, after completing remaining support systems and obtaining final approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This will be the first new U.S.-owned, U.S.-technology enrichment plant to begin production in 70 years.
Construction began in 2019 under a prior contract with DOE. In November 2022, DOE announced a new, competitively-awarded contract with Centrus to finish the cascade, complete final regulatory steps, begin operating the cascade, and produce HALEU for the production years at the Department’s sole discretion and subject to the availability of Congressional appropriations.
Before operations can begin, Centrus needs to finish construction of the remaining support systems, including a fissile materials storage area, so that the HALEU produced for the Department can be stored onsite, and complete final operational readiness reviews with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to obtain NRC approval so that production can begin.
The operational readiness reviews are required under Centrus’ Nuclear Regulatory Commission license, which was successfully amended in 2021 to allow for HALEU production, and made the Piketon site the only NRC-licensed HALEU production facility. Cascade operations and HALEU production are anticipated to begin by the end of 2023.
Expanding to Commercial Scale Production
Separate from the operations contract, Centrus is investigating the possibility to scale up the Piketon facility with additional centrifuge cascades for expanded HALEU production – provided that sufficient funding or offtake contracts can be secured.
A full-scale HALEU cascade, consisting of 120 individual centrifuge machines, with a combined capacity of approximately 6,000 kilograms of HALEU per year (6 MTU/year), could be brought online within about 42 months of securing the funding to do so.
Centrus has the capability to add an additional cascade every six months after that. Such an expansion would mobilize hundreds of union workers in Ohio to build and operate the plant and support thousands of direct and indirect jobs across a manufacturing supply chain that is 100 percent domestic and will be capable of meeting U.S. national security requirements.
HALEU is an advanced nuclear fuel required for most of the next-generation reactor designs currently under development. Nine of the ten advanced reactor designs selected for funding under the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, including the two demonstration reactors, will rely on HALEU, as will the first non-light water reactor to enter licensing review by the NRC.
“This is a major milestone for Centrus, for the advanced nuclear sector, and for the vital effort to restore America’s domestic uranium enrichment capability,” said Centrus Energy President and CEO Daniel B. Poneman.
“We are strongly committed to pioneering production of HALEU to support the deployment of U.S. advanced reactor designs around the world. Our goal is to scale up this facility to meet the full range of commercial, government, and national security requirements for uranium enrichment, including Low-Enriched Uranium for existing reactors and HALEU for advanced reactors.”
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Fermi Energia Selects GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 SMR for Estonia
Fermi Energia, Estonian privately held nuclear energy company planning a nuclear power plant in country by early 2030s, chose GE Hitachi as a technology provider for BWRX-300 SMR.
Kalev Kallemets, CEO of Fermi Energia, said in a press statement, “The BWRX-300 is in principle a boiling water reactor, which is used and well known by many European countries, including Finland and Sweden. However, the specific reactor model is much smaller than the ones used in the nuclear plants of our northern neighbors, which allows greater safety, lower cost, and shorter build time.”
He added that since Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is launching the construction of the BWRX300 at its Darlington power station in Ontario, Canada, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has committed to seeking a license to build the SMR at its Clinch River site, Estonia feels confident that it can learn from their experiences. The two utilities are collaborating in their respective efforts to deploy multiple units of the reactors. OPG has committed to three units of the 300 MW BWR with an option for a fourth. TVA has not yet said how many it planned to deploy.
As Fermi-Energia was making its announcement, separately, one of Europe’s largest energy companies, PKN Orlen, announced that it wants to build 74 small modular reactors in Poland, at least some of which would be BWRX-300.
Jay Wileman, President & CEO, GEH said, “This technology selection further validates the BWRX-300 as the leading SMR solution. By leveraging a unique combination of existing fuel, plant simplifications, proven components and a design based on an already licensed reactor, the BWRX-300 offers cost-competitive zero-emission generation in a meaningful timeframe.”
Fermi-Enegia added that the government in Estonia needs to take policy actions to support site selection for the SMR. However, Kallemets said he is confident about the future of the project.
“We have analyzed all the work ahead and consider it realistic to produce reliable, clean and affordable nuclear energy in Estonia by Christmas 2031, which should also be in the interest of society and the country’s climate goals. Understandably, this goal requires a serious effort from both the state and Fermi Energia.”
Financing of the project was not disclosed by the firm at the time of the press statement.
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Rolls-Royce SMR Signs Agreement in Poland for its 470MW PWR
- The firm says its reactors could be in revenue service in Poland in the 2030s.
- The plants could produce hydrogen and decarbonize regional energy infrastructure
(NucNet) UK’s Rolls-Royce SMR has signed a memorandum of intent with Polish industrial group Industria that could lead to the deployment of SMRs in central and southern Poland in the 2030s.
Rolls-Royce SMR’s technology could be used to power a central hydrogen cluster in the Swietokrzyskie region in southeast Poland and as part of Industria’s plans to produce 50,000 tonnes of clean hydrogen every year.
Industria is wholly owned by the Polish Government as part of the Industrial Development Agency (ARP), which supports the development of business and enterprise in Poland.
Rolls-Royce SMR chief executive officer Tom Samson said the agreement sets out the basis on which the companies will work together to develop joint plans for using SMR technology in Poland to decarbonise energy intensive industry and produce clean power for generations to come.
ARP president Cezariusz Lesisz said cooperation with Rolls-Royce SMR is an opportunity for the Swietokrzyskie region in southeast Poland and ARP’s group companies to develop a high-tech industrial base for small-scale nuclear power in Poland.
ARP wants to support projects to transform energy intensive industry, which will benefit from both renewables and nuclear energy, which will be available in Poland in the next decade or faster, Lesisz said.
Industria is also leading efforts to develop a supply chain of parts and modules for SMR production.
As a leader of the central hydrogen cluster, Industria is looking to deploy up to three SMRs to produce hydrogen.
SMRs Could Replace Coal-Fired Plants
Industria chief executive officer Szczepan Ruman said there are additional future opportunities to replace more than 8 GW of coal-fired power plants in southern Poland with SMRs throughout the 2030s.
He said Rolls-Royce SMR is “unmatched” in terms of its manufacturing concept and processes. “Participation in a supply chain of parts and modules for Rolls-Royce SMR is a great opportunity for our region and for entire industry in southern Poland.”
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Sheffield Forgemasters to Collaborate with Holtec for SMRs
Sheffield Forgemasters has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to collaborate with Holtec Britain on the development of components for its SMR-160 reactor.
Following similar agreements signed with three other nuclear power companies, the MOU with Holtec will see Sheffield Forgemasters develop the design of Holtec’s SMR-160 components to identify the best routes to manufacture them.
Dominic Ashmore, head of strategy and business development – Clean Energy at Sheffield Forgemasters, said: “We are looking forward to working closely with Holtec Britain on the SMR-160 designed reactor.
“This MOU complements a broader body of work that we are undertaking for the UK’s future civil nuclear programme, with Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) as a key element, alongside larger nuclear power plants and the real possibility of fusion power.
“We’ll work with Holtec to jointly develop the design for manufacture and purchase specifications for specific forgings, with specific attention on providing components which reduce the required machining, assembly, welding, and in-service inspection requirements for those components.”
Dr Rick Springman, senior vice president of international projects said, “Holtec is seeking to deploy a fleet of SMR-160 plants in the UK to supply nine million homes. We are pleased to partner with Sheffield Forgemasters to further manufacturing routes for key forgings required for this project.”
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Every one of these stories is the same…..we have “hopes” to build X amount of plants sometime in the next 10+ years but we don’t have the financing figured out yet. It’s like a broken record that has been playing for the last 20 years. We have already seen what is happening to the NuScale design and how the costs have skyrocketed. Does anyone seriously believe that these will be any different? I have high hopes but sometimes reality has to be at the forefront. Just my opinion. Keep up the great work Dan!!!