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On September 17, 2020, the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center hosted Seth Grae, president and chief executive officer of Lightbridge Corporation, as part of EnergySource InnovationStream, an online series that highlights new energy technologies with the potential to reshape the global energy system. Grae delivered a presentation on how Lightbridge Fuel™ technology can enhance the economics and safety of nuclear power in traditional and advanced reactors. Randolph Bell, Richard Morningstar chair for global energy security and director of the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.
Grae began the presentation with an overview of Lightbridge Fuel™ in the context of global competition to innovate cost-efficient and low-carbon energy technology. As the United States races with Russia and China to deploy nuclear power and decarbonize its energy mix, Grae spotlighted how Lightbridge Fuel™ can help the United States seize a competitive advantage as a safe, efficient, and economical alternative to traditional nuclear fuel. Grae added that “nuclear [energy] effectively competes with fossil fuels… without the price volatility and environmental impact of greenhouse gases.” Lightbridge Fuel’s™ solid, helically-twisted metallic fuel rods integrate high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) to reduce reactor temperatures by nearly 1000 °Celsius, extend the nuclear fuel cycle, and add incremental electricity at lower costs than other baseload energy sources. Grae emphasized that Lightbridge Fuel™ further facilitates the adoption of nuclear technology at an international scale by mitigating critical safety concerns regarding nuclear proliferation. According to Grae, weapons-grade nuclear material cannot be successfully extracted from Lightbridge Fuel™ waste.
Lightbridge Fuel™ continues to garner domestic and international interest. In December 2019, Lightbridge Corporation was awarded an $845,000 Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) voucher by the US Department of Energy to design an experiment that would irradiate samples of the innovative fuel at the Advanced Test Reactor at Idaho National Laboratory. Grae suggested that this may be the first of many future collaborations between Lightbridge and the US government. As of now, Lightbridge Corporation has obtained over two hundred patents worldwide for its Lightbridge Fuel™ technology, including twenty granted in 2019 and six in 2020. Grae described Lightbridge Fuel™ as having both an immediate and long-term impact on nuclear fuel technology. Its versatile fuel design can be installed in both traditional nuclear reactors, new light-water reactors, and innovative small modular reactors. Grae believes that this technology will become instrumental in paving the way for the next generation of reactors and potentially nuclear fusion technology.
The audience Q&A session focused on the economic considerations necessary to bring Lightbridge Fuel™ to market at scale. Grae underscored that many high-performing nuclear plants are being outcompeted by natural gas and subsequently decommissioned. By extending fuel cycles and increasing power output, Grae believes that Lightbridge Fuel™ can help nuclear energy successfully compete against natural gas. While the business frontier for new technologies tends to be volatile, Grae expressed confidence in Lightbridge Fuel’s™ success and highlighted that both public and private interest will keep nuclear energy relevant throughout the clean energy transition. Grae likewise affirmed that Lightbridge Fuel™ will prove not only economically but also ecologically advantageous. According to Grae, the ability to uprate existing infrastructure with Lightbridge Fuel™ technology will help expedite the adoption of nuclear energy “soon enough” to help consumers meet climate goals.
Seth Grae, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lightbridge Corporation
Seth Grae leads Lightbridge Corporation’s efforts to develop nuclear fuel technology that will improve the safety and economics of existing and new power reactors. Lightbridge’s proprietary fuel technology promises to make nuclear power – a reliable source of carbon-free electricity – safer and more economical. Seth has led Lightbridge’s efforts to advise the governments of countries seeking to start or expand nuclear power programs, from feasibility studies through procurement and operations. Lightbridge developed the United Arab Emirates’ strategic plan for commercial nuclear energy. Lightbridge has since been engaged with governmental entities on critically important nuclear energy advisory matters. Grae positioned the company for the future by focusing revenue from the consulting business on developing its nuclear fuel technology. For Lightbridge’s international consulting work and nuclear fuel technology development, Grae leads the company’s recruitment of world-class experts. Lightbridge engineers invented the fuel and the fuel’s manufacturing method, and Lightbridge holds worldwide patents. Seth is a member of the US Commerce Secretary’s advisory committee on international trade issues facing the nuclear power industry and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Nuclear Energy Institute.