UK-based nuclear technology company newcleo has announced a strategic and industrial partnership with France's NAAREA designed "to support all players in their industrial, technological, scientific and regulatory development" of Generation IV fast neutron reactors.

According to newcleo, the initiative is designed to meet the specific needs of the Gen-IV reactors currently under development. “The aim is to support all players in their industrial, technological, scientific and regulatory development. It is part of a complementary approach to the essential industrial SMR alliance, soon to be launched by the European Commission”. NAAREA (Nuclear Abundant Affordable Resourceful Energy for All) and newcleo, the first two winners of the France 2030 call for projects for innovative nuclear reactors, are joining forces to accelerate the development of their technologies.

Newcleo is developing a lead-cooled fast neutron mini-reactor (30MWe then 200MWe) and says its reactor design “has been optimised over the last 20 years leading to the concept of an ultra-compact and transportable 200 MWe module with improvements in energy density compared to other technologies”.

NAAREA, founded in 2020 by Jean-Luc Alexandre and Ivan Gavriloff, is developing the XAMR molten salt fast neutron micro-generator (40MWe or 80MWt). NAAREA benefits from the support of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), as well as industry players such as Assystem, Dassault Systèmes, Orano and Framatome.

Whilst different technologies, both intend to make use of used fuel from conventional reactors, ensuring complete closure of the fuel cycle. Both plan to bring their solutions to market by 2030. The partnership is intended to be open to all players involved in the industrial design and deployment of Gen-IV fast neutron reactors, in the following cooperation areas:

The fuel cycle: access to used nuclear fuel (in particular the separation of transuranic elements (plutonium and americium)), and the development and implementation of a supply chain for reprocessing used fuel;Financing fuel cycle infrastructure: through the development of public-private partnerships;Research: the development of a joint research and development platform (heat exchangers, materials, etc.) and the facilitation of funding at European level;Industrial development: by optimising and supporting procedures with the safety and security authorities, providing access to scientific computing tools particularly for safety demonstrations, making test centre sites available for future prototypes (including associated laboratories), and developing and implementing shared test facilities.

This will enable newcleo and NAAREA, and subsequently other players, to pool their efforts to accelerate innovation in the field of Gen-IVnuclear energy, and also gain in efficiency, while retaining their two technologies and their specific features. Under this partnership, joint initiatives can be developed with the entire French nuclear ecosystem to facilitate the decision-making needed to successfully complete the energy transition through a mix that includes sustainable and innovative nuclear energy.

Stefano Buono, newcleo Chairman and CEO said the collaboration “reinforces our shared commitment to innovation and sustainability in the nuclear sector”. NAAREA Chairman & founder Jean-Luc Alexandre said, through the partnership, the companies “are creating momentum to accelerate their development by providing a joint and coordinated response to the demands of public authorities for a unified voice to express common needs” He added: “Our two companies want to simplify the work of public authorities and ultimately promote the development and deployment of Gen-IV nuclear power in Europe, against a backdrop of strong global competition.”

This comes just a few days after newcleo has signed an agreement with Italy-based MAIRE subsidiaries NextChem Tech and Tecnimont to apply its reactors to decarbonise the chemical industry, including hydrogen production. This was just the latest in a long line of agreements and acquisitions undertaken since its establishment in 2021.

Newcleo claims to “capitalise on 30 years of R&D activity in metal-cooled fast reactors and liquid-lead cooling systems. NAAREA says its XAMR “is a fast neutron reactor that offers the advantage of producing electricity and heat from nuclear spent fuel”. While both companies make extravagant claims for their technologies on their websites, neither has so far produced even a basic design of their planned reactors.

Currently, the only operating liquid metal-cooled fast reactors are in Russia, using sodium as the coolant. Russia is also constructing the world’s first lead-cooled small modular reactor (Brest-OD-300) in Seversk as part of a facility to demonstrate an on-site closed fuel cycle, including novel fuel fabrication. This reactor, based on decades of complex research and development, and supported by the entire Russian nuclear industry, is due to begin operation in 2029. Given the lack of detailed designs, it seems very unlikely that either newcleo or NAAREA will be able to meet its target of deploying a liquid-metal cooled fast reactor in France by 2030.

While research on fast reactors took place in the 1960s and 1970s in the US and Europe, things began to change in the late 1970s as concerns about scarce uranium resources waned and public opinion became increasingly hostile in the wake of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the USA and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. By the early 1990s the US, the UK and Germany had closed down their programmes. France continued with its Phenix and SuperPhenix projects for a few more years, finally closing SuperPhenix in 1998 and Phenix in 2009, Subsequently, in 2019, France also cancelled the Generation IV ASTRID sodium-cooled fast reactor demonstrator design project. Interest is now reviving in Europe and the USA both through collaborative projects and government support for private company initiatives, but it remains at the design phase.

Date: Friday, 19 January 2024
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