TerraPower backs metallic HALEU pilot plant at Framatome’s Richland site

June 3, 2024, 7:01AMNuclear News
Framatome’s fuel fabrication facility in Richland, Wash. (Photo: Framatome)

TerraPower announced May 29 that it will work with Framatome North America to fund the high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) metallization pilot plant that Framatome is building at its fuel fabrication facility in Richland, Wash. A successful demonstration of Framatome’s capability of converting enriched uranium oxide to HALEU metal will “support the development of the domestic HALEU supply chain,” both companies say.

Fuel for Natrium: TerraPower needs HALEU in metal form for the Natrium sodium-cooled fast reactor it will build in Wyoming near a retiring coal power plant. Framatome views TerraPower’s investment in its metal HALEU pilot plant as the start of a “long-term collaboration.”

“This investment by TerraPower into Framatome’s pilot plant is a critical step in bringing advanced reactors like the Natrium technology to market. It is also one more way that TerraPower is delivering on its promise to do our part to support the fuel manufacturing sector,” said Chris Levesque, TerraPower president and chief executive officer. “A strong domestic fuel supply chain is crucial for the wide-scale deployment of advanced nuclear energy solutions, an energy source we know is needed to meet clean energy targets and provide reliable, baseload energy.”

Metal or oxide, what’s your flavor? HALEU can been converted to a metal form as part of the deconversion process that transforms enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) to a solid form—either metal or oxide—for fuel fabrication. While TerraPower requires metallic HALEU fuel rods for its Natrium design, some advanced reactors would use HALEU in oxide form manufactured into fuel rods or TRISO pellet forms.

This year, the Department of Energy expects to award one or more contracts to deconvert HALEU from post-enrichment gaseous UF6 to other chemical forms. The DOE’s final request for proposals for deconversion services was issued in November 2023 as one part of the agency’s effort—under the HALEU Availability Program—to establish a reliable domestic supply of advanced reactor fuel. Proposals were due January 30.

Framatome’s plans: Framatome’s pilot plant is already under construction as an expansion of the Richland site, and the company has applied for HALEU Availability Program funds under the HALEU deconversion RFP.

“This agreement advances fuel technologies for the nuclear energy industry, and working pragmatically with TerraPower builds the trust and confidence our customers count on,” said Ala Alzaben, senior vice president for North America fuel at Framatome. “TerraPower is at the forefront of the next generation of advanced reactors, and by utilizing our expertise and flexible manufacturing infrastructure, we can ensure new clean nuclear projects are not waiting on the supply chain of nuclear fuels.”

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