Centrus Energy announced on September 6 that it is conducting final system tests and expects to begin producing high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) in October from its 16-machine gaseous centrifuge enrichment demonstration cascade at the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio. After achieving initial HALEU production, Centrus has specific goals to meet under contract as the company ramps the demonstration cascade to its target annual production rate of 900 kg per year.
Centrus is required under a cost-share contract with the Department of Energy to produce 20 kg of 19.75 percent–enriched HALEU in uranium hexafluoride (UF6) form by the end of this year. That contract, announced in November 2022, replaced an earlier contract signed in October 2019 that called for first production of HALEU by June 2022. The current contract calls for production at an annual rate of 900 kg of HALEU UF6 per year in 2024, with additional options—subject to appropriations—to produce material in future years.
In February 2023, Centrus announced that construction of the cascade and most of the associated support systems was completed. In June, Centrus announced it had successfully completed its operational readiness reviews with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
On capacity: The capacity of the 16-centrifuge cascade—at 900 kg of HALEU UF6 per year—is “modest,” according to Centrus. A full-scale HALEU cascade of 120 centrifuge machines, with a combined capacity to produce approximately 6,000 kg of HALEU UF6 per year (6 MTU/year), could be brought on line within about 42 months of securing the necessary funding, and additional full-scale cascades could be added every six months after that, according to Centrus. The sprawling American Centrifuge Plant has enough space to host 11,520 centrifuge machines.
Hailing the news: “This will be the first new U.S.-owned uranium enrichment plant to begin production since 1954,” said Centrus president and chief executive officer Daniel B. Poneman. “What better way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s historic Atoms for Peace initiative than to restore a domestic uranium enrichment capability that will support our energy security and clean power needs, enable long-term national security and nonproliferation goals, and generate great new jobs for American workers.”
“We are all so proud of our team for getting us to this point, under budget and ahead of schedule,” said senior vice president for field operations Larry Cutlip. “This will be a key milestone, not only in providing a critical component of fuel for the next generation of reactors, but as the first step toward converting Southern Ohio into a vibrant hub that will strengthen our nation’s nuclear supply chain and facilitate the accelerated deployment of the nuclear energy increasingly demanded domestically and abroad to meet global climate objectives.”