Framatome Inc. and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. (USNC) signed an agreement on November 28 at the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris, France, establishing a joint venture to manufacture nuclear fuel for USNC’s gas-cooled microreactor and other advanced reactor designs. Working together, the companies plan to produce commercial quantities of TRISO fuel particles and USNC’s proprietary Fully Ceramic Microencapsulated (FCM) fuel, which contains TRISO fuel particles within a ceramic fuel pellet.
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.
Researchers at Idaho National Laboratory in early 2023 manufactured commercial-grade high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel pellets to the specifications of a General Electric accident tolerant fuel design, INL announced November 21. A team working at INL’s Experimental Fuels Facility at the Material and Fuels Complex fabricated about two dozen uranium dioxide pellets using HALEU enriched up to 15 percent U-235.
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.
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.
Researchers at Idaho National Laboratory have a new experimental tool to study nuclear fuel under simulated loss of coolant accident (LOCA) conditions in INL’s Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) Facility. A specialized experiment holder called a TWIST capsule holds a fuel sample surrounded by water, which can rapidly drain away during testing, simulating loss of coolant in a light water reactor environment.
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.
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.
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 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.
Ultra Safe Nuclear (USNC) announced on June 21 that it has selected the city of Gadsden, Ala., to host a $232 million MMR assembly plant. Modules for the company’s high-temperature, gas-cooled and TRISO-fueled microreactor, dubbed the Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR), would be manufactured, assembled, and tested at the “highly automated facility” once it is in operation.
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.
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.
Framatome is prepared to manufacture a novel molybdenum-uranium (U-Mo) fuel to extend the life and safe operation of the Forschungsreaktor München II (FRM II) research reactor in Germany. A new fuel supply—one that uses uranium enriched to less than 20 percent U-235—means the FRM II can continue to supply neutrons to industry and the scientific community. The fuel is “Europe’s low-enriched fuel with the highest density ever realized for research reactor operations,” according to Framatome’s April 27 announcement.
Westinghouse Electric Company announced on March 14 that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved the use of the company’s Advanced Doped Pellet Technology (ADOPT) fuel pellets in U.S. pressurized water reactors. That approval brings the company closer to loading lead test assemblies containing ADOPT accident tolerant fuel pellets in Unit 2 of Southern Nuclear’s Vogtle plant.
“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.”
Lightbridge Corporation, which is continuing to work closely with national laboratories on the manufacture and testing of its metallic fuel rod designs for light water reactors, just announced the results of an investigation on the casting process for molten uranium and zirconium with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory under the Department of Energy’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program.
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 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.