Still in need of HALEU, DOE issues RFP for post-enrichment services

November 29, 2023, 9:34AMNuclear News
Image: DOE

The Department of Energy plans to award one or more contracts to deconvert high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) from its post-enrichment gaseous uranium hexafluoride (UF6) state to other chemical forms, such as metal or oxide. The DOE’s final request for proposals (RFP) for deconversion services was issued November 28 as one part of the agency’s effort—under the HALEU Availability Program—to establish a reliable domestic supply of advanced reactor fuel. The DOE will store the deconverted material until it is required by a fuel fabricator or other end user.

Divide and contract: Deconversion is just one part of the front end of the HALEU fuel cycle, and successful respondents would need commercial quantities of enriched UF6 before they could get to work. The DOE plans to issue a second RFP later this year focused on acquiring and storing enriched UF6, and then transporting it for deconversion.

This split approach to the front end of the fuel cycle was introduced in draft RFPs released in June and informed by feedback received on those drafts during a 30-day comment period. All front-end activities, from mining through the storage of deconverted HALEU, are grouped together for contracting purposes under either the enrichment or the deconversion RFP. The enrichment RFP includes mining and milling, conversion, enrichment (which may be performed at two separate locations), and storage of UF6. The deconversion RFP includes transportation of enriched UF6, deconversion to oxide and metal, and storage.

In the low-enriched uranium fuel cycle for today’s light water reactors, uranium enriched up to 5 percent U-235 is shipped to a fuel fabricator as UF6 and is deconverted to an oxide form before fabrication. But fuel cycle facilities licensed to enrich, deconvert, and fabricate HALEU on a commercial scale don’t yet exist. Because fuel requirements for different advanced reactor designers vary by form and by enrichment, and because HALEU enriched to between 10 and 19.75 percent U-235 is regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a Category II material, new facilities and a new process are needed. It’s the DOE’s task to make sure that federal funds earmarked for HALEU availability will go toward building enrichment and deconversion infrastructure that is commercially sustainable.

The DOE’s task: “Deconversion services are a key link in developing an advanced reactor fuel supply chain here in the United States,” said Kathryn Huff, the DOE’s assistant secretary for nuclear energy. “We need these services urgently to enable advanced reactor deployments in support of our clean energy future.”

The HALEU Availability Program was authorized by the Energy Act of 2020 to support the availability of HALEU for civilian domestic research, development, demonstration, and commercial use. The DOE projects that more than 40 metric tons of HALEU could be needed before the end of the decade, with additional amounts required each year to meet ambitious advanced reactor deployment goals. The private-sector HALEU supply chain that the draft RFPs are designed to build would help ensure that HALEU is available once DOE HEU stockpiles are depleted. With only $700 million designated for the HALEU Availability Program in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the DOE has a program but is still—despite bipartisan efforts from Congress and the White House—in need of funds.

Contracting details: As outlined in the draft RFPs released in June, services provided under both the enrichment and deconversion RFPs could be co-located or housed at separate facilities. Deconversion services, for example, could be co-located with enrichment, fuel fabrication, or both, dramatically reducing transportation requirements.

All deconversion contracts will last up to 10 years, and base awards guarantee a minimum of $2 million to each recipient (the total ceiling for the indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity [IDIQ] contract is $800 million for all task orders cumulatively awarded). Deconversion and storage services must occur in the continental United States and activities must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The scope of work under the contract may include, but is not limited to the following:

  • Coordinate, develop, and/or execute all aspects for receiving HALEU from the enrichment site at the deconversion site in UF6 form.
  • Provide planning, preparation, packaging, loading, and other support as necessary to transport oxide, metal, other forms of enriched uranium to a fuel fabricator.
  • Provide deconversion services within the continental United States to convert UF6 to a metal, oxide, or other fuel fabrication feed material as defined by an individual task order.
  • Design, engineering, fabrication, and testing of facilities, equipment and supplies, including packaging for HALEU products.
  • Obtain NRC licenses, certifications, permits, and all other approvals necessary, including safeguards and security requirements.
  • Project management, integration, and other planning services for participants associated with the program, as identified by DOE.
  • Provide for temporary storage of HALEU in all forms.
  • Perform business and economic studies, including cost-benefit analyses.

For more information: A prebid/preproposal conference is scheduled for December 6 in Washington, D.C., to review the contract requirements, the bid/proposal submission requirements, and the evaluation process; virtual attendance will be supported.

Respondents will have two months to put together proposals, which are due by 5:00 p.m. (MST) on January 30, 2024. For more information, review the RFP details at FedConnect

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