Lightbridge's patented thorium-based seed-and-blanket fuel assembly consists of two sections: (1) metallic fuel rods in the central region called the seed that is surrounded by (2) oxide fuel rods in the outer region called the blanket.
The seed incorporates proprietary all-metal fuel rods which differ from conventional fuel rods and offer certain reactor safety and cost benefits. The seed rods are comprised of a zirconium-based alloy produced using a co-extrusion fabrication process.
The blanket is comprised of thorium-uranium oxide pelletized fuel rods similar to that of conventional fuel rods presently used in commercial light water reactors. The main difference between the blanket fuel rods and conventional fuel rods is the material contained in the pellets: thorium-uranium oxide (Th,U)O2 mixture in the blanket rods vs. uranium oxide (UO2) in conventional uranium fuel rods.
Within the thorium-based fuel product family, we currently have three fuel variants of thorium-based fuel designs under development. The first is designed to provide reactor owners/operators with a proliferation resistant fuel technology that generates significantly less plutonium in the spent fuel. The second is designed to dispose of reactor-grade plutonium that has been extracted from spent fuel from commercial reactors. The third is designed to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium that is stockpiled in Russia and the United States.
Lightbridge’s primary thorium-based fuel design incorporates uranium-zirconium metal fuel rods in the seed region and thorium-uranium oxide fuel rods in the blanket region. This fuel design offers enhanced proliferation resistance due to the reduced quantity of plutonium and higher fractions of even plutonium isotopes. It also provides a significant reduction in used fuel volume and weight, reduced decay heat of the used fuel inventory, and reduced long-term radio-toxicity of used fuel. Finally, the fuel design provides improved fuel cycle economics, particularly on the back-end. In some earlier technical publications, this fuel design has also been referred to as Radkowsky Thorium Fuel or RTF.
Lightbridge has also a preliminary design for another fuel variant that utilizes plutonium-zirconium metal fuel rods in the seed region and thorium-uranium oxide fuel rods in the blanket region. In some earlier technical publications, this fuel design was referred to as Radkowsky Thorium Plutonium Incinerator (RTPI). This fuel design has similar proliferation resistance and waste reduction benefits as the uranium-zirconium metal seed and thorium-uranium oxide blanket fuel design and offers the most efficient way to burn surplus plutonium stockpiles in existing light water reactors. In 2005, Westinghouse Electric Company conducted an independent technical review of this design, paid for by the US Department of Energy, and issued a favorable assessment.