The USA are building the HALEU supply chain: Uranium & Fuel

December 15, 2021

US Department of Energy (DOE) Seeks Public Opinion on Plans to Create New Program to Ensure Availability of High-Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) Fuel – Required for Demonstration and Deployment commercial advanced reactors – in the United States. Meanwhile, Centrus is working with Clean Core Thorium Energy on an advanced fuel using HALEU and thorium.

Centrus is building a facility to produce HALEU in Ohio (Image: Centrus)

DOE says establishing a HALEU readiness program is critical to the demonstration and commercial deployment of advanced reactors, including two demonstration reactor projects to receive $ 2.5 billion in funding through of the bipartisan infrastructure law signed last month by President Joe Biden.

HALEU fuel is enriched between 5 and 20% uranium 235. Most advanced reactors under development in the United States will use HALEU to enable them to achieve smaller designs, longer duty cycles, and better efficiencies than. previous reactor designs, but it is not yet commercially available from domestic suppliers. The DOE predicts that more than 40 tonnes of HALEU will be needed by 2030, with additional amounts needed each year to deploy a new fleet of advanced reactors within a timeframe that supports the US administration’s net zero emissions targets. by 2050.

According to the request for information (RFI) published in the Federal Register, this lack of capacity is a major obstacle to the development and deployment of advanced reactors for commercial applications. Most of the highly enriched uranium (HEU) stockpile held by the National Nuclear Security Administration at DOE is reserved for United States naval reactors and other military uses, and is not available for downblending to use. in advanced reactors used for commercial applications. Other HEUs in the DOE inventory are assigned to supply research reactors and medical isotope production facilities around the world, and to meet critical defense and space needs. This leaves a very limited amount of HEU available to be blended with HALEU for advanced commercial reactors, which would not be sufficient to meet the short-term demands expected for the demonstration and deployment of advanced reactors, he says.

the Energy Law of 2020 authorizes the DOE to establish and implement a program to support the availability of HALEU for domestic civilian research, development, demonstration and commercial use. The RFI will be used to help develop this program, and will also be taken into account by the DOE in preparing its report to Congress.

US Senator Joe Manchin, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, welcomed the announcement: “I have long supported the commercialization of advanced nuclear technologies as a basic energy source to zero emissions, and I agree to fund the Advanced Nuclear Fuel Program as authorized in the Energy Law of 2020 to avoid relying on Russia or other foreign suppliers to power the next generation of nuclear power.

“Advanced reactors are an incredible asset in our collective fight against climate change,” said Kathryn Huff, Senior Assistant Under Secretary for Nuclear Energy. “If we don’t take the necessary steps now to ensure a sufficient and diverse supply of HALEUs, reactor demonstration and deployment projects, like those funded by the bipartite infrastructure law, will not be fueled in time for us. help slow down the impacts. of climate change. “

Written comments and information in response to the RFI must be submitted by January 13, 2022.

Test the tablets

In addition, the American enrichment company Centrus Energy Corp yesterday congratulated Clean Core Thorium Energy and Texas A&M for the manufacture of the first samples of ANEEL (Advanced Nuclear Energy for Enriched Life) fuel pellets, which combines thorium and HALEU. Although the initial test pellets use HALEU supplied by Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Clean Core plans to use Centrus’ HALEU for commercial scale production of the fuel.

Clean Core and Centrus are working together to promote the use of ANEEL fuel in CANDU reactors and other pressurized heavy water reactors, under a memorandum of understanding signed earlier this year. The fuel can reduce the amount of waste produced in these reactors by more than 80%, providing waste management and safety benefits as well as non-proliferation benefits.

“The production of the first ANEEL test pellets is an important step in the development of this new advanced nuclear fuel,” said Daniel Poneman, President and CEO of Centrus. “With a large fleet of PHWR reactors in operation in Canada and elsewhere, ANEEL could both accelerate and increase initial demand for HALEU over the next several years. “

Clean Core plans to test and qualify ANEEL fuel at INL in 2022 and plans to have the fuel on the market by the end of 2024.

Centrus is currently building the first U.S. production facility for HALEU in Piketon, Ohio, under a three-year, $ 115 million, cost-shared contract signed in 2019 with the DOE.

Research and writing by World Nuclear News

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