The busyness of the nuclear fuel supply chain

May 7, 2024, 3:00PMNuclear NewsKen Petersen

Ken Petersen

With all that is happening in the industry these days, the nuclear fuel supply chain is still a hot topic. The Russian assault in Ukraine continues to upend the “where” and “how” of attaining nuclear fuel—and it has also motivated U.S. legislators to act.

Two years into the Russian war with Ukraine, things are different. The Inflation Reduction Act was passed in 2022, authorizing $700 million in funding to support production of high-­assay low-enriched uranium in the United States. Meanwhile, the Department of Energy this January issued a $500 million request for proposals to stimulate new HALEU production. The Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2024 includes $2.7 billion in funding for new uranium enrichment production. This funding was diverted from the Civil Nuclear Credits program and will only be released if there is a ban on importing Russian uranium into the United States—which could happen by the time this column is published, as legislation that bans Russian uranium has passed the House as of this writing and is headed for the Senate. Also being considered is legislation that would sanction Russian uranium. Alternatively, the Biden-Harris administration may choose to ban Russian uranium without legislation in order to obtain access to the $2.7 billion in funding.

Fuel supply chain updates as U.S. and allies “sever dependency” on Russian U

April 30, 2024, 9:30AMNuclear News

The United States has an ambitious goal: to establish a high-assay low enriched-uranium advanced nuclear fuel supply chain, revive the once thriving nuclear fuel market for low-enriched uranium in the nation, and “reestablish U.S. leadership in nuclear energy more broadly.” Making a success of that could have impacts beyond the nuclear sector. According to the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, “Expanding domestic LEU and HALEU enrichment production will be essential for fueling the clean energy required to bring down emissions in all sectors of the economy—including in hard-to-abate sectors such as manufacturing and industrial—while delivering high paying jobs to communities across the country.”

GLE picks natural U over HALEU for now, and more updates from U.S. enrichers

March 26, 2024, 3:00PMNuclear News

On March 26, Silex Systems Ltd. announced that Global Laser Enrichment’s test loop pilot demonstration facility and operational safety programs have been reviewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and approved for loading uranium hexafluoride feed material in preparation for the next phase of GLE’s enrichment technology demonstration in the second quarter of 2024.

2023 in Review: October–December

January 16, 2024, 3:01PMNuclear News

Another calendar year has passed. Before heading too far into 2024, let’s look back at what happened in 2023 in the nuclear community. In today's post, compiled from Nuclear News and Nuclear Newswire are what we feel are the top nuclear news stories from October through December 2023.

Stay tuned for the top stories from the rest of the past year.

Centrus meets initial HALEU enrichment requirements with 20 kg delivery

November 9, 2023, 7:05AMNuclear News
Centrus Energy staff posing in front of the American Centrifuge Plant. (Image: Centrus Energy)

Centrus Energy and the Department of Energy announced November 7 that Centrus has produced 20 kilograms of HALEU at the DOE-owned American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio, satisfying Phase One of a DOE contract to stand up and operate 16 advanced centrifuges. Centrus will now move on to Phase Two of the contract, which requires a full year of HALEU production at a rate of 900 kilograms per year.


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.

NRC moves ahead on HALEU enrichment, rulemaking, and guidance

September 28, 2023, 1:59PMNuclear News
Upper-level view of Centrus’s HALEU cascade. (Photo: Centrus Energy)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is requesting comments on the regulatory basis for a proposed rule for light water reactor fuel designs featuring high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), including accident tolerant fuel (ATF) designs, and on draft guidance for the environmental evaluation of ATFs containing uranium enriched up to 8 percent U-235. Some of the HALEU feedstock for those LWR fuels and for advanced reactor fuels could be produced within the first Category II fuel facility licensed by the NRC—Centrus Energy’s American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio. On September 21, the NRC approved the start of enrichment operations in the plant’s modest 16-machine HALEU demonstration cascade.

American Centrifuge Plant the subject of upcoming NRC public meeting

September 5, 2023, 7:01AMNuclear News

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff will hold a hybrid public meeting on September 7 to discuss the agency’s licensing and oversight of Centrus/American Centrifuge Operating’s American Centrifuge Plant, in Piketon, Ohio. The discussion will focus primarily on the company’s enrichment of high-assay low-enriched uranium, or HALEU.

The U.S. nuclear fuel Gordian knot: The uncertain path forward

September 1, 2023, 3:07PMNuclear NewsMatt Wald

In the last few weeks of 2021, when it was clear that the Russian invasion of Ukraine had put this country’s uranium fuel supply in jeopardy, nuclear energy advocates lobbied hard to attach provisions to various pieces of “must-pass” legislation—such as the National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA), the Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act—to have the government get the ball rolling on new domestic uranium fuel production capacity. Four times they thought they had succeeded, that Congress was going to allocate enough money to start the United States on the road to a secure supply of reactor fuel, including the higher-enriched fuel needed for advanced reactors.

Oklo, Centrus reach understanding on fuel, components, and power procurement

August 29, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News
The site in Piketon, Ohio, where Oklo plans to deploy two microreactors under an agreement with Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative. (Photo: Oklo)

Oklo Inc. and Centrus Energy announced a new memorandum of understanding on August 28 to support the deployment of Oklo’s microreactor design, dubbed Aurora, near the Piketon, Ohio, site where Centrus plans to operate a high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) enrichment demonstration under contract to the Department of Energy by the end of the year.

Centrus plans to add HALEU centrifuge cascades under TerraPower MOU

July 19, 2023, 7:02AMNuclear News
View of the machine controls electronics of Centrus’s HALEU demonstration cascade. (Photo: Centrus)

TerraPower and Centrus Energy Corp. announced on July 17 that they have signed a memorandum of understanding to “significantly expand their collaboration aimed at establishing commercial-scale, domestic production capabilities for high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU)” to supply fuel for TerraPower’s first Natrium reactor. Nearly three years ago, TerraPower first announced plans to work with Centrus to establish commercial-scale HALEU production facilities. The two companies signed a contract in 2021 for services to help expedite the commercialization of enrichment technology at Centrus’s Piketon, Ohio, facility.

The U.S. nuclear fuel Gordian knot: From global supplier to vulnerable customer

May 19, 2023, 3:01PMNuclear NewsMatt Wald

This article is the second in a series about the domestic nuclear fuel crisis. The first in the series, “‘On the verge of a crisis’: The U.S. nuclear fuel Gordian knot,” was published on Nuclear Newswire on April 14, 2023.

Once upon a time, enrichment was a government monopoly—at least outside the Soviet bloc. But the United States, eager to get out of the field, was convinced that the private sector could do it better. Now, the West is dependent on the Soviets’ successors and is facing an uncertain supply, a complication of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Slowly, a consensus is growing that dependence on imports is a bad idea. Some experts also say that upsets like the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and the collapse of natural gas prices due to fracking, show that the market is too prone to shocks for private companies to navigate without support. One of the architects of the U.S. government’s exit from the enrichment game is now voicing second thoughts. And belatedly—shortly after the first anniversary of the beginning of the Russian invasion—five Western countries, including the United States, announced that they have to get more deeply involved in the fuel supply chain, but didn’t say precisely how.

On the verge of a crisis: The U.S. nuclear fuel Gordian knot

April 14, 2023, 3:00PMANS Nuclear CafeMatt Wald
This chart from the EIA shows sources of uranium for U.S. nuclear power plants, 1950-2021. In 2020, according to the chart, 39.60 million pounds of uranium oxide was imported for the domestic nuclear power plant fleet. (Credit: Energy Information Agency)

The naturalist John Muir is widely quoted as saying, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” While he was speaking of ecology, he might as well have been talking about nuclear fuel.

At the moment, by most accounts, nuclear fuel is in crisis for a lot of reasons that weave together like a Gordian knot. Today, despite decades of assertions from nuclear energy supporters that the supply of uranium is secure and will last much longer than fossil fuels, the West is in a blind alley. We find ourselves in conflict with Russia with ominous implications for uranium, for which Russia holds about a 14 percent share of the global market, and for two processes that prepare uranium for fabrication into reactor fuel: conversion (for which Russia has a 27 percent share) and enrichment (a 39 percent share).

Centrus completes HALEU enrichment cascade construction

February 10, 2023, 9:34AMNuclear News
A view of the completed demo cascade. (Photo: Centrus)

Centrus Energy announced February 9 that it has finished assembling a cascade of uranium enrichment centrifuges and most of the associated support systems ahead of its contracted demonstration of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) production by the end of 2023. When the 16-machine cascade begins operating inside the Piketon, Ohio, American Centrifuge Plant, which has room for 11,520 machines, it will be the first new U.S.-technology based enrichment plant to begin production in 70 years.

“There’s going to be a cliff”: Preparing an international SMR supply chain

November 3, 2022, 12:32PMNuclear News
Participating in the forum were (from left) John Hopkins (NuScale Power), Renaud Crassous (EDF), Daniel Poneman (Centrus Energy), Adriana Cristina Serquis (CNEA), and Boris Schucht (Urenco).

The nuclear industry leaders assembled in Washington, D.C., last week to discuss small modular reactor supply chains agreed that lost generation capacity from the expected retirement of hundreds or thousands of coal power plants over the next decade—a cliff, in one panelist’s words—represents an opportunity that developers of SMRs and advanced reactors are competing to meet.

“I think in total 80 projects are ongoing,” said Boris Schucht, panel moderator and chief executive officer of Urenco Group, as he opened the forum. “Of course not all of them will win, and we will discuss today what is needed so that they can be successful.”

Looking back at 2021—Nuclear News April through June

January 7, 2022, 12:01PMNuclear News

This is the third of five articles to be posted today to look back at the top news stories of 2021 for the nuclear community. The full article, "Looking back at 2021,"was published in the January 2022 issue of Nuclear News.

Quite a year was 2021. In the following stories, we have compiled what we feel are the past year’s top news stories from the April-June time frame—please enjoy this recap from a busy year in the nuclear community.

X-energy has work ahead in quest to build TRISO-X fuel facility, Xe-100 reactor

November 10, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News
The TRISO-X fuel pebble shown here contains TRISO particles—HALEU-bearing kernels of oxide and carbide in alternating layers of pyrolytic carbon and silicon carbide. (Image: X-energy)

X-energy and Centrus Energy announced last week that they have completed the preliminary design of the TRISO-X fuel fabrication facility and have signed a contract for the next phase of work. The planned facility would produce TRISO fuel particles and pack those particles into fuel forms, including the spherical graphite “pebbles” needed to fuel X-energy’s Xe-100 high-temperature gas reactor.

Preliminary design of TRISO-X fuel facility completed

November 4, 2021, 9:30AMNuclear News

X-energy and Centrus Energy Corporation yesterday announced the completion of the preliminary design for X-energy’s TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility, plus the signing of a contract for Centrus to continue its work as the project enters its next phase.

Hot U market and simmering interest in HALEU: It boils down to demand

September 22, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News
(Click photo to enlarge) One of 16 AC100M gas centrifuges built by Centrus Energy for HALEU production in Piketon, Ohio. (Photo: Centrus Energy)

For years, pressure has been building for a commercial path to a stable supply of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU)—deemed essential for the deployment of advanced power reactors—but advanced reactor developers and enrichment companies are still watching and waiting. In contrast, the uranium spot price soared after Sprott Physical Uranium Trust, a Canadian investment fund formed in July, began buying up U3O8 supplies, causing the price to increase over 60 percent, topping $50 per pound for the first time since 2012. Fueled by growing acknowledgment that nuclear power is a necessary part of a clean energy future, uranium is the focus of attention from Wall Street to Capitol Hill.

Centrus approved for HALEU production

June 21, 2021, 7:01AMNuclear News
Centrus’s American Centrifuge Plant, in Piketon, Ohio. Photo: Centrus Energy

Centrus Energy Corporation has announced that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the company’s license amendment request to produce high-assay low-enriched uranium at its Piketon, Ohio, enrichment facility. The Piketon plant is now the only U.S. facility licensed to enrich uranium up to 20 percent uranium-235, and it is expected to begin demonstrating HALEU production early next year, according to Centrus.