France’s Areva NP is set to launch a joint venture with US-based nuclear fuel developer Lightbridge after signing preliminary agreements this week.

The two firms say they will now “immediately advance” development of Lightbridge’s metallic fuel technology (diagram, pictured), a fuel assembly comprised of only metallic fuel rods, which the company says is capable of operating safely at increased power density compared to standard uranium oxide fuel.

The three agreements signed by the companies cover joint research and development activities and ownership of intellectual property, including a grant of royalty-based rights of use to existing intellectual property and 50/50 co-ownership of new intellectual property arising from future joint fuel development.

In October, Lightbridge announced plans to conduct full irradiation testing of fabricated fuel samples under commercial reactor operating conditions in a pressurized water loop at Norway’s Halden research reactor. The company said it was making progress towards irradiation testing and had inspected hardware components for the first irradiation rig. 

Gary Mignogna, Areva’s president and CEO, called the agreements “an important step forward in establishing our joint venture with Lightbridge to bring their state-of-the-art metallic fuel technology to market.

“Partnerships like this are vital to ensure that today’s nuclear energy facilities have the technologies they need to operate efficiently for decades to come and can continue to provide needed low-carbon and reliable electricity.”

Lionel Gaiffe, senior executive vice-president of Areva’s fuel business, added: “These agreements pave the way to accelerate the design, licensing and fabrication work. Our teams and experts from engineering and manufacturing are fully mobilized and very excited about this project. We are looking forward to the introduction of lead test assemblies of this promising technology.”

And Seth Grae, Lightbridge president and CEO, said: “With each passing day, the call for innovative solutions to improve nuclear energy’s economics and competitiveness only becomes louder”.  

He said his firm’s technology “is designed to make existing reactors significantly more competitive with other sources of energy, which is needed now more than ever”.