Centrus financial report reveals slow down in HALEU plans

13 February 2024

US Centrus’s Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2023 Results showed an overall increase in income but a reduction in profits with mixed results for different operating sectors. While the US’s only uranium enrichment facility showed increased revenue with respect to its low-enriched uranium (LEU) operations, results for high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) were slow.

“Centrus delivered a robust fourth quarter performance, capping off a historic and profitable year with the launch of the first new US-owned, US-technology enrichment plant to begin production in 70 years,” said Centrus President & CEO Amir Vexler. “With support of a strong, public-private partnership, we look forward to scaling up production in our Ohio facility to meet the full range of America’s commercial and national security requirements for enriched uranium, including HALEU for advanced reactors and LEU for the existing reactor fleet.”

Centrus generated total revenue of $320.2m in 2023, an increase on the $293.8m recorded in 2022. Revenue from the LEU segment was $269m in 2023, up from $235.6m in 2022. Revenue from the Technical Solutions segment however, was down to $51.2m in 2023 from $58.2m in 2022. “This decrease was driven by decreased work performed under the 2019 HALEU Demonstration Contract and other contracts,” said Centrus, adding that it was “partially offset by increased work under the HALEU Operation Contract signed in November 2022”.

In November 2023, Centrus delivered its first delivery 20 kg of HALEU produced at the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio, to the Department of Energy (DOE). This marked the end of the first phase of a cost-share contract signed in 2022. Under Phase 2, Centrus is expected to deliver a full year of HALEU production from the 900 kg capacity plant. DOE is seeking to ensure the availability of HALEU (enriched to between 5% and 20% uranium-235) for advanced nuclear fuel required by next-generation reactor designs and to build a domestic HALEU supply chain. Previously the only supplier of this material was Russia, but deliveries stopped as a result of the sanctions imposed in the wake of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine.

The HALEU produced at Piketon is to remain on site in a specially constructed storage facility until it is needed. The storage includes regulator-certified Type 5B cylinders that can maintain shielding from gamma and neutron radiation used for materials including enriched uranium. The cylinders normally used to transport LEU to fuel fabricators cannot be used for the more highly enriched HALEU. Problems with the cylinders is causing difficulties at Piketon.

In its annual report, Centrus noted in an update that it had fulfilled Phase 1 of the contract with DOE under budget and ahead of schedule but would not be able to fulfil Phase 2. “In Phase 2 of the contract, which has a cost-plus-incentive-fee structure, the contract calls for the production of 900 kilograms of HALEU UF6, Centrus said. “The DOE is contractually required to provide storage cylinders (5B Cylinders) necessary to collect the output of the cascade, but supply chain challenges have created difficulties for the DOE in securing 5B Cylinders for the entire production year. Centrus anticipates that the delays in obtaining 5B Cylinders will be temporary, but no longer will deliver 900 kilograms of HALEU UF6 originally anticipated for Phase 2 of the contract, which extends to November 2024.”

For approximately 50 years, the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant at Piketon produced enriched uranium for both government and commercial uses. In the 1960s, the site took on a more commercial focus, enriching uranium mainly for NPPs. In 1993 the production facilities were leased by DOE to the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC. From 1991 until production ceased in 2001, the Portsmouth plant produced only low-LEU for commercial power plants. In 1993, uranium enrichment operations were turned over to USEC, which was privatised in 1998, and in 2000, uranium enrichment production was terminated at the site. Some of the facilities were no longer required by USEC and subsequently returned to DOE.

Following bankruptcy in 2014, USEC re-emerged as Centrus Energy Corp and under a 2019 contract DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, Centrus licensed and built a new cascade of 16 AC100M centrifuges at Piketon to demonstrate production of HALEU.

Image: Advanced centrifuge cascade at the US DOE-owned facility in Piketon, Ohio (courtesy of Centrus)

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