US-based Centrus Energy Corp announced on 14 June that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had approved the Company’s licence amendment request to produce High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) at the Piketon, Ohio, enrichment facility. The Piketon plant is now the only US facility licensed to enrich uranium up to 20% Uranium-235 (U-235) and expects to begin demonstrating HALEU production early next year. “This approval is a major milestone in our contract with the Department of Energy,” said Centrus President and CEO Daniel B Poneman.
HALEU-based fuels will be required for most of the advanced reactor designs currently under development and may also be utilised in next-generation fuels for the existing fleet of reactors in the USA and worldwide. Developers of nine of the ten advanced reactor designs selected for funding under DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Programme, including the two demonstration reactors, have said they will rely on HALEU-based fuels.
Under a 2019 contract with the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, Centrus is constructing a cascade of 16 AC100M centrifuges – a U.S.-origin technology – to demonstrate production of HALEU. The three year, $115 million, cost-shared contract runs until mid-2022. The NRC licence was granted for the period of the DOE contract. Centrus recently released an update on progress of construction for the demonstration cascade and anticipates completing performance under the contract in early 2022. If sufficient funding is provided to continue operation, the licence can be amended to extend the term.