American Centrifuge Operating (ACO), a subsidiary of Centrus Energy Corp, started enrichment operations for the first time at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio.
ACO is now one step closer to producing the nation’s first commercial quantities of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU)—a crucial material needed to develop and deploy advanced reactors in the United States.
The demonstration project is on track to produce 20 kilograms of HALEU by the end of 2023.
Beginning Domestic HALEU Production
ACO successfully completed its operational readiness reviews in June with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and received approval to use uranium at the facility.
Since then, ACO has been conducting final systems tests and other preparations to begin enriching limited quantities of uranium hexafluoride gas into HALEU.
ACO is expected to produce its first HALEU material within the next few weeks.
The work builds on a 3-year project with DOE to manufacture and assemble 16 advanced centrifuges into an enrichment cascade.
ACO received a competitively awarded follow-on contract last November to start up and operate the cascade.
The company is on track to meet demonstration requirements by producing 20 kilograms of 19.75 percent enriched HALEU by the end of the year.
ACO will then continue production in 2024 at an annual production rate of 900 kilograms of HALEU per year, with options to produce more in future years.
“This moment holds great pride – and promise – for the nation,” said Centrus President and CEO Daniel Poneman. “We hope that this demonstration cascade will soon be joined by thousands of additional centrifuges right here in Piketon to produce the HALEU needed to fuel the next generation of advanced reactors, Low-Enriched-Uranium to sustain the existing fleet of reactors, and the enriched uranium needed to sustain our nuclear deterrent for generations to come. This is how the United States can recover its lost nuclear independence.”
“It’s remarkable what we can accomplish in the truly American public, private partnership model," said Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk. "For the first time ever, an American company is producing HALEU on American soil, providing critical fuel for advanced nuclear reactors, a statement that America’s committed to our energy security."
The HALEU will be used to help fuel the initial cores of two demonstration reactors awarded under DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program and will also support fuel qualification and the testing of other new reactor designs.
The Growing Need for HALEU
HALEU is required by many advanced reactor designs to achieve smaller designs, longer operating cycles, and increased efficiencies over current technologies.
It is not available from domestic suppliers and gaps in the nation’s fuel cycle infrastructure could delay the deployment of advanced reactors in a timeframe that supports the nation’s target to reach a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
The Piketon plant is currently the only facility in the U.S. licensed to enrich uranium up to HALEU levels of 19.75 percent.
In addition to this demonstration project, DOE is supporting several efforts to provide more access to HALEU.
Current activities include recycling spent nuclear fuel from government-owned research reactors and acquiring HALEU through purchase agreements with domestic industry partners to spur demand for additional HALEU production and private investment in the nation’s nuclear fuel supply infrastructure.