Lightbrigde, a company in Reston Virginia, has been working on new fuel technologies for about a quarter of a century and now have something to show off. The company has just unveiled a metallic fuel for nuclear reactors that they say will increase efficiency and safety of nuclear power.
The fuel rods designed by Lightbridge have used a ceramic oxide of uranium, a different compound from uranium-zirconium alloy used by current rods. The rods have also used a single piece of metal that is rigged like a piece of licorice and spiraling in a helix as opposed to the conventional cylindrical uranium pellets. The shaped of the rods, allow water to flow across the surface, transferring more heat ultimately resulting in increased electricity generation.
Lightbridge has already agreed to collaborate with French nuclear giant Avera to commercialize the new rods. Lightbridge CEO Seth Grae noted that the technology can be installed as early as in 2020. The technology can increase the power of existing power reactors by 10% and extend their operating time between refueling from 18 months to 24.
CEO Grae notes that the new rods are more powerful, cost-effective, safer and can help with reducing greenhouse gasses. He further notes that using Renewable alone will not enable the world to reach the set climate goals, but new types of reactors will help in attaining the goal.
Ian Scott, a co-founder of Moltex Energy, a company in the United Kingdom, notes that the safety question with new rods is complicated. The high heat transfer of solid fuel would mean that the rods cool on a fast rate in the event of a temporary loss of coolant. However, since the melting point of Lightbridge’s rod is much lower than that of current rods a disaster might even happen much sooner. He notes that currently the aim is to create rods that are more tolerant to very high temperatures in a beyond-design-basis than uranium oxide, but Lightbridge fuel goes in the opposite direction.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the one mandated with overseeing how the technology will influence the market, and it will decide whether to certify it. Leslie Dewan, who is the co-founder of Transatomic Power, notes that the biggest challenge the rods face is the amount of time the commission will take to certify the new fuel.
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