US HALEU Demonstration Project prepares for initial production

23 June 2023

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Nuclear says American Centrifuge Operating (ACO), a subsidiary of Centrus Energy Corp, is moving closer to operating an advanced centrifuge cascade in Piketon, Ohio, to produce US’s first high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) which is needed to develop and deploy advanced reactors. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently cleared the facility to start up enrichment operations and the demonstration project is on track to produce 20 kilograms of HALEU before the end of the year, according to DOE.

ACO has completed operational readiness reviews with the NRC and is now authorised to enrich limited quantities of uranium hexafluoride gas into HALEU. The work builds on a three-year project with DOE to manufacture and assemble 16 advanced centrifuges into an enrichment cascade. ACO received a competitively awarded follow-on contract in November 2022 to start up and operate the cascade.

Following the production of 20 kilograms of HALEU later this year, ACO will then produce 900 kilograms the following year, with additional options to produce more HALEU in future years pending congressional appropriations.

“This is a significant step in establishing commercial production of HALEU in the US,” said Jon Carmack, DOE’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Fuel Cycle & Supply Chain. “It will not only help fuel the dozens of promising new reactor technologies currently under development but also support more than 100 local jobs in the Piketon area.”

The HALEU will be used to help fuel the initial cores of two demonstration reactors awarded under DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program and will also support fuel qualification and the testing of new reactor designs. HALEU is not currently available from US suppliers. DOE says gaps in fuel cycle infrastructure could delay the deployment of advanced reactors in a timeframe that supports the nation’s target to reach a net-zero emissions economy by 2050. The Piketon plant is currently the only US facility licensed to enrich uranium up to HALEU levels of 20%. ACO will now work toward completing the construction of an on-site HALEU storage area and wrap up final testing activities prior to operating the cascade.

Image: Advanced centrifuge cascade in Piketon, Ohio (courtesy of Centrus Energy)

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