US-based BWX Technologies announced that the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) had awarded an initial $3.6 million contract to BWXT Nuclear Operations Group as the manufacturer of a uranium-molybdenum alloy High Assay Low Enriched Uranium (U-Mo HALEU) fuel.
The fuel will facilitate the conversion of research reactors from the current use of high-enriched uranium.
The contract funds engineering work for the decommissioning and refurbishment of portions of the Lynchburg, Virginia, facility for future production of U-Mo HALEU.
BWXT has been working independently and in concert with NNSA since 2006 to develop U-Mo HALEU fuel that is designed to retain the performance of research reactors while lowering the proliferation risk.
This project was undertaken in support of NNSA’s Office of Defence Nuclear Nonproliferation and its research reactor conversion programme, which encourages the conversion of domestic and international civilian research reactors and medical isotope production facilities to the use of non-weapons grade materials.
BWXT has been supplying fuel elements and assemblies for research and test reactors for decades and is the only North American supplier of fuel-bearing components for reactors at national laboratories, colleges and universities.
The integration of U-Mo HALEU fuel alloy processing at the same BWXT facility used to produce research reactors’ fuel-bearing components will have significant benefits for quality, cost and logistics, the company said.
Assuming additional future awards, BWXT anticipates that fuel production could begin by 2024.
The US Administration's fiscal 2021 budget request, disclosed on 10 February, includes $2 billion for Office of Defence Nuclear Nonproliferation programmes, including the pursuit of opportunities to minimise and, where possible, eliminate weapons-usable nuclear material around the world.