DOE says sale of HALEU will not adversely affect uranium industry

April 12, 2022, 3:02PMNuclear News

The Department of Energy has determined that the sale, lease, or transfer of up to 750 kilograms of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) per calendar year to support the production of molybdenum-99 will not have an adverse material impact on the domestic uranium mining, conversion, or enrichment industry.

The DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration holds limited inventories of uranium in various forms and quantities that have been declared as excess and are not dedicated to U.S. national security missions. The NNSA downblends excess high-enriched uranium to HALEU, which is used as fuel for domestic and foreign research reactors and as target materials for the production of medical isotopes.

The sale, lease, and transfer of HALEU supports the DOE’s Mo-99 program, which seeks to establish domestic supplies of the critical medical radioisotope without the use of high-enriched uranium. The DOE’s decision also supports U.S. nuclear nonproliferation initiatives by downblending HEU and encouraging the use of LEU in civilian applications in lieu of HEU.

The basis: The DOE’s determination is based on its Analysis of Potential Impacts of Certain Uranium Transactions on the Domestic Uranium Mining, Conversion, and Enrichment Industries, notice of which was published in the April 11 Federal Register.

The DOE’s analysis considered two types of potential transactions: the lease of certain HALEU for Mo-99 production, and the sale or transfer of HALEU to producers for use in medical isotope research, development, and production. In assessing whether HALEU sales and transfers will have an adverse impact on the domestic uranium mining, conversion, and enrichment industry, the DOE considered six factors: prices, production at existing facilities, employment levels in the industry, changes in capital improvement plans and the development of future facilities, the long-term viability and health of the industry, and the Russian Highly Enriched Uranium Agreement and the Suspension Agreement.

The determination: By law, the DOE may make certain sales or transfers of natural uranium or LEU if the secretary of energy determines that the sale or transfer “will not have an adverse material impact on the domestic uranium mining, conversion, or enrichment industry, taking into account the sales of uranium under the Russian Highly Enriched Uranium Agreement and the Suspension Agreement.”

Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm issued the determination on November 23, 2021, and it remains valid until November 2023.

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