HALEU enrichment begins at the American Centrifuge plant in southern Ohio

October 16, 2023, 2:36PMNuclear News
The 16-centrifuge HALEU demonstration cascade sits within a vast DOE-owned facility with room for more than 11,000 centrifuges. (Photo: Centrus)

American Centrifuge Operating (ACO), a subsidiary of Centrus Energy, has started enriching uranium hexafluoride gas to high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) levels at the Department of Energy’s enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio, the DOE announced October 11. 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 advanced reactor designs.

According to the DOE, “The demonstration project is on track to produce 20 kilograms of HALEU by the end of 2023.” ACO will then continue production in 2024 at an annual production rate of 900 kilograms of HALEU per year, with options for nine years of continued production at the same rate (those options are at the DOE’s sole discretion and are subject to congressional appropriations).

Centrus began building the 16-machine HALEU demonstration cascade in 2019 under a contract from the DOE that anticipated the start of HALEU production in June 2022. In November 2022, Centrus secured a follow-on contract to finish construction, complete final regulatory steps, bring the cascade into operation, and produce 20 kilograms of HALEU by the end of the year. Centrus’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission license was successfully amended in 2021 to make the Piketon site the only NRC-licensed HALEU production facility.

Progress this year: ACO successfully completed operational readiness reviews with the NRC in June and received approval to introduce 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.

Centrus Energy, in a separate October 11 press release, said it “expects to begin withdrawing HALEU product later this month” from what it describes as the first new U.S.-owned, U.S.-technology uranium enrichment plant to begin production since 1954.

Acclamations: “This moment holds great pride—and promise—for the nation,” said Centrus president and chief executive officer 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.”

Other sources: In addition to the American Centrifuge demonstration project, the DOE is supporting other efforts to increase the HALEU supply for the nation’s first advanced reactors. Current activities include recycling spent nuclear fuel from government-owned research reactors and acquiring HALEU through purchase agreements with domestic industry partners.

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