Westinghouse establishes US centre of excellence for LEU+ fuel

30 August 2023

US-based Westinghouse has announced the establishment of a centre of excellence for Low Enriched Uranium Plus (LEU+) fuel manufacturing at its Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility (CFFF) in South Carolina.

The demand for LEU+ fuel (with 5-10% enrichment) is expected to grow as it offers increased power generation reducing the number of outages needed in NPPs for refuelling. Westinghouse says it is expanding operations at CFFF with advanced processes, upgraded equipment, and engineered safeguards for sustainable, efficient, and reliable fabrication of LEU+ nuclear fuel.

“Westinghouse is committed to providing fuel products and engineering services required by our customers to achieve 24-month cycles through our High Energy Fuel Programme,” said Tarik Choho, Westinghouse Nuclear Fuel President. “The programme is aligned with our customers’ needs for LEU+ fuel. Further, this vision will provide high-tech job opportunities and increase collaboration with our local technical colleges and universities in South Carolina.”

Westinghouse is consulting stakeholders, including Federal and State regulators, local governments, and surrounding communities, to provide assurances about the continued safe operation of the CFFF, the protection of the public, and the environment.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a renewed operating licence for CFFF l in September 2022, authorising the facility to continue operations until 12 September 2062. The renewal followed completion of NRC’s safety and environmental reviews of the application. The final environmental impact statement, published in July 2022, catalogued “small” impacts on most resources, and “small to moderate” impacts on groundwater and waste generation during decommissioning.

The NRC safety review concluded that the company’s programmes are adequate to ensure safe operation of the facility for the 40-year period. The staff did not identify safety risks or new processes or technologies that might introduce new safety concerns. The staff also considered the company’s safety performance and efforts to mitigate onsite contamination, with oversight by South Carolina, before renewing the licence.

In 2017, NRC had issued a confirmatory order to Westinghouse after the discovery in May 2016 of accumulated uranium-bearing material at the Facility. NRC said it would not issue a civil penalty or cite the company for violations because of the commitments Westinghouse had made under the order. These included a number of corrective actions, such as a survey of the safety culture among employees, improvements and modifications to minimise the likelihood of a similar accumulation, and development of additional methods to provide early indications of abnormal accumulations.

Image: The Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility in Hopkins, South Carolina, USA (courtesy of Westinghouse)

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