High-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) is the fuel of choice for many advanced reactor developers, including Advanced Reactor Concepts, which is designing the ARC-100, a sodium-cooled fast reactor. Developers face a potential supply problem, however: The United States has no clear path to build the commercial HALEU production facilities that would be needed to fuel a fleet of advanced reactors. A letter of intent signed by ARC and Centrus Energy, announced on April 28, calls for cooperation on the deployment of a commercial supply of HALEU and could lead to a HALEU purchase agreement for ARC-100 deployments in the late 2020s.
The agreement: Under the nonbinding and nonexclusive agreement, Centrus would supply HALEU that would be produced using its centrifuge technology. HALEU is enriched to a U-235 concentration between 5 percent and 20 percent and offers greater power density than the low-enriched uranium currently used in U.S. light-water reactors.
“ARC is excited for the opportunity to work with Centrus as a prospective HALEU supplier,” said Robert Braun, ARC’s senior vice president and chief operating officer. “The timing of their production capability would support our requirements in order to meet our 2028 commercialization timeline.” ARC would need the first HALEU fuel by 2027.
Federal investment: Centrus is currently carrying out a three-year, $115-million cost-shared contract with the Department of Energy to deploy 16 of its AC-100M centrifuges to demonstrate the production of HALEU at the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio. The demonstration program goes through 2022, at which point Centrus would need further investment, either from private industry or the federal government. An assured customer base is critical to spurring investment in commercial-scale HALEU production.
“We are pleased to be working with ARC to find a path forward that will allow Centrus to be ARC’s HALEU supplier and for ARC to be a strong commercial customer for the HALEU production capability we are working to develop,” said Larry Cutlip, Centrus’s senior vice president for field operations.
In the Nuclear Fuel Working Group’s report, released on April 23, the DOE confirmed that enrichment is an important part of the nuclear fuel supply chain.