These gas centrifuges operated in the Piketon facility from 2013 to 2016 as part of a 120-machine low-enriched uranium demonstration cascade. (Photo: Centrus Energy)
Centrus Energy confirmed on December 1 that its wholly owned subsidiary American Centrifuge Operating signed a contract with the Department of Energy, which was first announced on November 10, to complete and operate a demo-scale high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) gaseous centrifuge cascade.
From left: Christina Leggett (Booz Allen Hamilton), Morris Hassler (IB3 Global Solutions), Everett Redmond (Oklo), Andy Griffith (DOE-NE), Ben Jordan (Centrus), Stephen Long (GLE), and Magnus Mori (Urenco).
Whether commercial demand for high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel ultimately falls at the high or low end of divergent forecasts, one thing is certain: the United States is not ready to meet demand, because it currently has no domestic HALEU enrichment capacity. But conversations happening now could help build the commercial HALEU enrichment infrastructure needed to support advanced reactor deployments. At the 2022 American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting, representatives from three potential HALEU enrichers, the government, and industry met to discuss their timelines and challenges during “Got Fuel? Progress Toward Establishing a Domestic US HALEU Supply,” a November 15 executive session cosponsored by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy Division and the Fuel Cycle and Waste Management Division.
Centrifuge casings arrive in Piketon, Ohio. (Photo: Centrus Energy)
The Department of Energy announced a cost-shared award on November 10 valued at about $150 million for American Centrifuge Operating, a subsidiary of Centrus Energy, to complete the high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) demonstration project it began in 2019. After delays that Centrus attributes in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company now has until the end of 2023 to produce the first 20 kilograms of HALEU enriched to 19.75 percent U-235 from the 16-centrifuge cascade it has installed in a DOE-owned Piketon, Ohio, facility—the only U.S. facility currently licensed to produce HALEU.
Artist’s conception of Oklo’s Aurora powerhouse. (Image: Gensler)
The interior of the process building at the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio, where Centrus Energy plans to operate a HALEU demonstration cascade by June 2022. (Photo: Centrus Energy)
Advanced reactor cores are being designed for higher efficiencies and longer lifetimes, but to get there, they need high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU).
Enriched to between 5 and 19.75 percent fissile U-235, HALEU is packed with nuclear potential. It can be used as a feedstock for the demonstration of new fuel designs, from uranium alloys to ceramic pellets and liquid fuels. Those fuels can enable advanced reactor and microreactor demonstrations. Operating light-water reactors could potentially transition to HALEU uranium oxide fuels for extended operating cycles and improved plant economics.