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.

White House backs HALEU enrichment with a request for $2.2 billion

October 26, 2023, 3:15PMNuclear News
Image: DOE

Just a few hours after a new Speaker of the House of Representatives was elected on October 25, the White House sent a list of funding priorities for “critical domestic needs” to Congress for consideration as legislators restart the stalled annual appropriations process. Those priorities include $2.2 billion for low-enriched uranium (LEU) and high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) enrichment capabilities. And to ensure that investment in domestic HALEU enrichment pays off, the White House is also calling for a long-term ban on enriched uranium from Russia.

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.

Centrus Energy expects first HALEU production in October

September 7, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News

Centrus Energy’s HALEU demonstration cascade. (Photo: Centrus Energy)

Centrus Energy announced on September 6 that it is conducting final system tests and expects to begin producing high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) in October from its 16-machine gaseous centrifuge enrichment demonstration cascade at the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio. After achieving initial HALEU production, Centrus has specific goals to meet under contract as the company ramps the demonstration cascade to its target annual production rate of 900 kg per year.

Centrus is required under a cost-share contract with the Department of Energy to produce 20 kg of 19.75 percent–enriched HALEU in uranium hexafluoride (UF6) form by the end of this year. That contract, announced in November 2022, replaced an earlier contract signed in October 2019 that called for first production of HALEU by June 2022. The current contract calls for production at an annual rate of 900 kg of HALEU UF6 per year in 2024, with additional options—subject to appropriations—to produce material in future years.

A focus where it is needed

September 7, 2023, 6:57AMNuclear NewsKen Petersen

Ken Petersen

The front end of the fuel cycle is getting a lot of attention lately—and it needs it. The war in Ukraine has disrupted the global supply chain for many products, nuclear fuel being one. Several countries have determined that they no longer want to rely on nuclear fuel from Russia. This can be anything from fabricated fuel including uranium, conversion, and enrichment to just enrichment.

Since the Cold War, Russia has been a major supplier of nuclear fuel to the West. Replacing Russia as the main supplier will take both time and money—a fact that has become even more clear as the small modular reactor community grows, and with it, the demand for high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) for fuel.

The American Nuclear Society has been highlighting the immediacy of the fuel supply problem—which will become a crisis without immediate action—for years. In 2021, ANS wrote to Congress, urging swift action. This year, Nuclear News and ANS’s Nuclear Newswire have run a three-part series by energy writer and consultant Matt Wald on the domestic nuclear fuel shortage. The first article, “On the verge of a crisis: The U.S. nuclear fuel Gordian knot,” was published on Newswire on April 14; the second, “The U.S. nuclear fuel Gordian knot: From global supplier to vulnerable customer,” on May 19. The final piece of the series, “The U.S. nuclear fuel Gordian knot: The uncertain path forward,” was posted on September 1.

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.

Urenco will expand enrichment operations at New Mexico facility

July 11, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News
A bank of Urenco centrifuges. (Photo: Urenco USA)

Urenco announced July 6 that it will expand enrichment capacity at its U.S. site in Eunice, N.M.—known as UUSA—by adding new centrifuge cascades to increase capacity by about 700 metric tons of separative work units per year, or a 15 percent increase, with the first new cascades coming on line in 2025.

Centrus gets NRC’s okay to introduce uranium in HALEU demonstration cascade

June 16, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News
Centrus’s HALEU demonstration cascade. (Photo: Centrus Energy)

Centrus Energy announced yesterday that it has received Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval to introduce uranium hexafluoride into its 16-machine centrifuge cascade in Piketon, Ohio, following operational readiness reviews by the NRC. Centrus says it “remains on track to begin production of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) by the end of 2023.” The announcement follows a series of inspections at the American Centrifuge site in April 2023.

HALEU supply plans detailed in DOE draft solicitations and scoping notice

June 7, 2023, 9:30AMNuclear News

The Department of Energy released two draft requests for proposals to acquire high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU)—one covering enrichment services that could include the production of between 5 and 145 metric tons of HALEU during a 10-year performance period, and another for deconverting that HALEU from uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas to metal or oxide forms in preparation for fuel fabrication. The DOE also issued a notice of intent to fulfill its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) obligations for the HALEU Availability Program by launching the scoping process for an environmental impact statement; that notice was published in the Federal Register on June 5.

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, 3:00PMNuclear NewsMatt 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).

Senate hearing focuses on securing the entire U.S. nuclear fuel cycle

March 14, 2023, 9:39AMEdited March 14, 2023, 9:38AMNuclear News
In this screenshot from a video recording of the hearing, Huff, Wagner, and Dominguez answer a series of questions from Sen. Manchin

“Right now, our country is deficient in nearly every aspect of the fuel cycle. This must change and it must change quickly,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.V.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), as he opened a Full Committee Hearing to Examine the Nuclear Fuel Cycle on March 9. “Whether it is uranium mining, milling, conversion, enrichment, nuclear fuel fabrication, power generation, or nuclear waste storage and disposal, there is much work to be done, starting with conversion and enrichment. Simply put, Russia dominates the global market, representing nearly half of the international capacity for both processes.”

Senate nuclear fuel bill targets “all viable options” for LEU and HALEU supply

February 21, 2023, 7:01AMNuclear News
Energy Fuels’ White Mesa Mill in southeastern Utah is the only operating conventional uranium mill in the United States. (Photo: Energy Fuels)

The bipartisan Nuclear Fuel Security Act (NFSA), introduced in the Senate last week, would authorize the Department of Energy to establish a Nuclear Fuel Security Program to “ensure a disruption in Russian uranium supply would not impact the development of advanced reactors or the operation of the United States’ light water reactor fleet.” The bill was introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.V.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee; Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), ranking member of the Senate ENR committee; and Sen. Jim Risch (R., Idaho).

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.

Centrus signs to complete HALEU demo in 2023 as the DOE prepares draft RFP

December 6, 2022, 9:49AMNuclear News
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.

Got Fuel? Prospective HALEU enrichers and buyers talk goals and timelines

December 2, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News
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.

DOE plans offtake contracts to stock a HALEU bank “as soon as possible”

October 21, 2022, 9:13AMNuclear News
An image from the video “What is High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU)?” released by the DOE in April 2020. (Source: DOE)

Another piece of the plan for meeting the urgent need for high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) to fuel advanced reactor deployments fell into place when the Department of Energy held an Industry Day on October 14. Attendees were asked how soon they could deliver 25 metric tons per year of HALEU enriched in the United States from newly mined uranium. Offtake contracts for six or more years of HALEU production at that rate could be used to stock a DOE-owned HALEU bank to “support [HALEU] availability for civilian domestic research, development, demonstration, and commercial use.”

White House would send the DOE $1.5 billion to set up reliable LEU/HALEU supply

September 8, 2022, 3:06PMNuclear News
HALEU in the form of 1.5–3 kg reguli ready for fuel fabrication. (Photo: INL)

Those who welcomed the $700 million earmarked for high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) supply in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) in August have cause to celebrate again. The White House sent a supplemental appropriation request to Congress on September 2 that would provide more than double the IRA funds if passed—$1.5 billion—for the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy to build a reliable supply of both low-enriched uranium for existing U.S. nuclear power plants and HALEU for the advanced reactors that will be built within the decade.

GLE eyes earlier enrichment, inks agreements with two largest U.S. utilities

July 11, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News

Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) signed separate, nonbinding letters of intent in June with the two largest nuclear power operators in the United States—Constellation and Duke Energy—to assess potential nuclear fuel supply chain cooperation, including support for GLE’s deployment of laser enrichment technology in the United States. According to GLE president and chief commercial officer James Dobchuk, who delivered a presentation on June 7 at the World Nuclear Fuel Market Annual Meeting, the company’s baseline deployment schedule could be accelerated by about three years (under favorable market conditions) to supply the nuclear fuel market with uranium in a range of enrichment levels in 2027.