Urenco USA has announced its capability in the provision of high assay low enriched uranium (HALEU).
HALEU (uranium-235 enriched up to 19.75%) is a subcategory of LEU (uranium-235 enriched up to no more than 20%). HALEU can be used for civil applications in existing and new power plants, as well as for research, test and medical isotopes facilities.
Several Urenco enrichment facilities are already licensed to produce at enrichments above 5% U-235 in line with market requirements. However, Urenco is now exploring the construction of a "dedicated HALEU unit" at the Urenco USA facility. Urenco said it is progressing the design engineering and related licensing activities to support this project.
Further activity at Urenco USA is underway to support near-term delivery of slightly greater than 5% U-235 enrichments for existing light water reactors interested in higher burnup rates and/or extended operating cycles.
Urenco CEO Thomas Haeberle said Urenco is "well placed to support operators in industry, medicine and research in order to meet the practical and logistical challenges of producing and transporting HALEU."
He continued: "This represents an exciting next stage in the civil nuclear power industry and we look forward to collaborating with existing and new customers on their requirements and using our expertise to provide a reliable fuel supply for the future demand.”
The Urenco USA enrichment plant in Eunice, New Mexico, is the only uranium enrichment plant currently operating in the United States. Construction of the plant began in 2006 and its first enrichment cascade reached full production in June 2010. Urenco USA's current capacity is 4800tSWU a year, about a third of US enrichment demand.
HALEU will be needed to fuel many advanced reactor designs now under development, such as the U-Battery micro small modular reactor concept. The 4MWe (10MWt) single-unit gas-cooled reactor design uses TRISO (tristructural isotropic) fuel.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has also proposed converting metallic HALEU from its early experimental breeder reactor programme to fuel to support US companies developing new reactor technologies. The DOE recently announced plans to award a contract to a subsidiary of Centrus Energy to demonstrate the production of HALEU in a cascade of US-designed 16 AC-100M centrifuges at Piketon, Ohio.