US-based Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC) and Centrus Energy have signed a letter of intent to cooperate in supporting deployment of US uranium enrichment capacity to produce High Assay, Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel.
HALEU fuel is manufactured from uranium-235 enriched to levels between 5% and 20%. It could be used to power both existing and next-generation nuclear reactors, including the ARC's sodium-cooled fast reactor design ARC-100.
The letter is non-binding and non-exclusive, but it reflects a long-term commitment to enter into a purchase agreement that would enable Centrus to supply commercial HALEU that ARC needs to deploy its reactor technology in the late 2020s.
"We are pleased to be working with ARC to find a path forward that will allow Centrus to be ARC's HALEU supplier and for ARC to be a strong commercial customer for the HALEU production capability we are working to develop," said Larry Cutlip, Centrus senior vice president for field operations.
"ARC is excited for the opportunity to work with Centrus as a prospective HALEU supplier. The timing of their production capability would support our requirements to meet our 2028 commercialisation timeline," said Robert C Braun, ARC senior vice president and chief operating officer.
The US Nuclear Fuel Working Group report released last week identifies establishing a domestic HALEU production capability as a key priority in restoring America's competitive advantage in nuclear energy.
Since 2019, Centrus has been working under a three-year, $115 million cost-shared contract with the US Department of Energy to deploy 16 of its AC-100M centrifuges to demonstrate production of HALEU with US technology in Ohio. The demonstration programme continues until 2022, at which point Centrus expects to have a fully licensed, operable HALEU production capability at a small scale that could be expanded modularly to meet commercial and/or government requirements for HALEU. ARC expects to deploy its reactors starting in late 2028, with the first fuel needed by 2027.
The joint statement by Centrus and ARC noted that large, state-owned uranium enrichment enterprises back many of the foreign reactor developers that compete against American companies.
“Centrus and ARC are committed to working together with other stakeholders in industry and government to find a solution to this dilemma,” it said.
It added that the inherent safety features and passive decay heat removal capabilities of the ARC-100 reactor, combined with the improved power density of HALEU, allows for a smaller, simpler, less-capital intensive reactor design. “Unlike existing light water reactors, which must be refuelled with LEU every 18 to 24 months, the HALEU core of the ARC-100 will allow the reactor to operate at full power for 20 years without refuelling.”
Advanced Reactor Concepts, founded in 2006 is a privately held company comprising many of the nuclear energy pioneers who played vital roles in the US Government Experimental Breeder Reactor-II programme (EBR-II). This operated the EBR-II sodium fast reactor supplying electricity into the grid for 30 years at Idaho Falls, Idaho. The EBR-II experience base serves as the prototype for the ARC-100.
Photo: American Centrifuge 120-machine demonstration cascade, which operated from 2013-2016 at Centrus’ facility in Piketon, Ohio (Photo credit: Centrus Energy)