The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently approved Centrus Energy’s request to make high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel (HALEU) at its enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio. The plant is now the only licensed HALEU production facility in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is currently supporting a three-year, $170 million dollar cost-shared demonstration project with Centrus. The company has already built 16 advanced centrifuge machines for uranium enrichment and expects to begin HALEU production by early next year.
The amended license allows the facility to produce HALEU by enriching uranium up to 20% with uranium-235—the main fissile isotope that produces energy during a nuclear reaction. Current reactors are typically enriched up to 5%. Under the DOE demo project, the company will provide up to 600 kilograms of HALEU by next June. The material will be used to support the testing and demonstration of new reactor designs.
“This demo project has consistently hit all of its milestones and is on track to make a huge impact for our nation,” said Andrew Griffith, the deputy assistant secretary for nuclear fuel cycle and supply chain in DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. “It is helping us reestablish our domestic nuclear fuel supply chain, it has supported more than 200 U.S. jobs, and is a positive step toward fueling a new portfolio of reactors that can help us achieve our climate goals.”
Fueling the Future
DOE’s recent Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request includes a record $1.8 billion for the Office of Nuclear Energy. It’s the highest ask ever for the office and places a HUGE emphasis on scaling up the commercial deployment of smaller and more flexible advanced reactor designs.
The FY22 request includes more than $500 million to help demonstrate and mature a variety of U.S. advanced reactor designs. Many of them require HALEU fuel to optimize their systems for longer life cores, increased efficiencies and better fuel utilization.
HALEU-based fuel is not commercially available in the United States and DOE is pursuing three different options to support the testing and demonstration of advanced reactors, including this project. The NRC amended license covers the length of the DOE contract and expires in 2022. If sufficient funding is available to continue operation, the license can be amended again to extend the term.
Centrus has met all required HALEU demo project milestones to date and is on track to complete the program no later than June 2022.