Fuel cycle players signal next moves as Russian uranium ban becomes law

May 16, 2024, 7:02AMNuclear News
Uranium yellowcake is used in the preparation of uranium fuel that is used in nuclear reactors. (Photo: DOE)

On May 13, President Biden signed the Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act, unlocking the $2.72 billion that Congress conditionally appropriated in March to increase production of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU).

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.

Commercial HALEU supply chain draft EIS now open for comment

March 1, 2024, 9:32AMNuclear News
HALEU reguli fabricated from downblended high-enriched uranium recovered from legacy EBR-II fuel at Idaho National Laboratory. (Image: DOE)

The Department of Energy yesterday announced a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on HALEU Availability Program plans to purchase high-assay low-enriched uranium under 10-year contracts to seed the development of a sustainable commercial HALEU supply chain.

U.K. backs advanced reactor future with £300 million for HALEU enrichment

January 16, 2024, 7:01AMNuclear News
Urenco UK’s Capenhurst enrichment site, which received a grant in July 2023 to prepare for HALEU enrichment. (Photo: Urenco UK)

The United Kingdom’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero announced plans on January 7 to invest £300 million (about $383 million) to build a high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) enrichment facility in northwest England. The goal? To “end Russia’s reign as the only commercial producer of HALEU.” Britain is now the first European country to declare that it will begin HALEU enrichment in a bid for supply chain security.

2023 in Review: April–June

January 11, 2024, 7:00AMNuclear 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 April through June 2023.

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

DOE rolls out simplified HALEU enrichment RFP, opens door to LEU from allies

January 10, 2024, 12:01PMNuclear News
Image: DOE

The Department of Energy issued a final request for proposals (RFP) on January 9 for uranium enrichment services to help establish a commercial domestic supply of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) to fuel a potential fleet of advanced reactors. Without HALEU, advanced reactors will not be able to proceed past the demonstration stage. And given the investments of capital and time required to license and build a nuclear power plant—even a smaller, more efficient advanced reactor—eliminating fuel uncertainty could be what a utility needs to invest in new construction.

COP28 is the backdrop for new fuel commitments from the U.S. and allies

December 12, 2023, 12:01PMNuclear News

Leaders of five nations that collectively represent 50 percent of the world’s uranium conversion and enrichment capacity—the United States, Canada, Japan, France, and the United Kingdom—are making a habit of meeting on the sidelines of global climate talks to pledge their commitment to securing the nuclear fuel supply chain. On December 7 at the Net Zero Nuclear Summit—an event held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, during the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP28—representatives of those nations announced plans to “mobilize at least $4.2 billion” in government and private investment in enrichment and conversion capacity. The commitment expands on an initial civil nuclear fuel security agreement that the so-called Sapporo 5 reached in April 2023, when they met (as now, on the sidelines) during a G7 Ministers’ Meeting on Climate, Energy, and Environment in Sapporo, Japan.

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
president@ans.org

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, 3:00PMANS 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).