US-based Centrus Energy Corp announced that its application to produce High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) at its Piketon, Ohio, facility had been accepted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for formal review.
HALEU-based fuels will be required for most advanced reactor designs currently under development. They may also be utilised in next-generation fuels for existing reactors in the USA and globally.
“With support from the US Department of Energy (DOE), Centrus is proud to be leading the way in the development of a domestic source of HALEU that can meet a wide range of commercial, nonproliferation and other national security requirements,” said Centrus president and CEO Daniel B Poneman.
“Providing an assured, domestic supply of HALEU will help restore US nuclear leadership internationally and is a prerequisite for the United States to play a major role in building and fuelling the world’s nuclear reactors and setting global standards for nuclear safety and nonproliferation.”
In 2019, Centrus entered into a three-year, $115 million cost-shared contract with the DOE to deploy its AC-100M centrifuge technology and to demonstrate the production of HALEU. The demonstration programme is on schedule and on budget, with the first set of outer casings for the centrifuges delivered to Piketon after being manufactured in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
The Piketon facility is already licensed to enrich uranium to a uranium-235 concentration of up to 10%. It is the only US facility licensed for enrichment above 5%. If the licence amendment is approved, Centrus will be licensed to enrich uranium up to 20% U-235.
Several advanced reactor and fuels developers have announced plans to use HALEU-based fuel, with enrichment levels as high as 19.75% in their designs.
A recent report by the US Nuclear Fuel Working Group cited HALEU as a key step toward re-establishing US leadership in advanced nuclear technology. It echoes the findings of an April 2020 survey by the US Nuclear Infrastructure Council in which US advanced reactor companies identified the availability of HALEU as the number one issue that “keep(s) you up at night.”
Most power reactors use Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) fuel enriched to slightly less than 5%. HALEU is further enriched so that the U-235 concentration is between 5% and 20%. HALEU offers advantages as an advanced nuclear fuel for both existing and next-generation reactors, including greater power density, improved reactor performance, fewer refuelling outages, improved proliferation resistance, and smaller volumes of waste.
Photo: American Centrifuge 120-machine demonstration cascade, which operated from 2013-2016 at Centrus’ facility in Piketon, Ohio (Credit: Centrus)