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).

How robust is HALEU from a nonproliferation perspective?

May 13, 2024, 3:10PMNuclear NewsShikha Prasad

Shikha Prasad

High-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) has emerged as a popular fuel choice for advanced small modular reactors due to its long power production periods before refueling. It is currently being pursued by TerraPower, X-energy, BWX Technologies, Kairos, Oklo, and other reactor companies. HALEU has a uranium-235 enrichment ranging from 5 percent to 20 percent, whereas traditional LWRs use low-enriched uranium fuel enriched up to 5 percent.

HALEU will provide power for longer durations, compared with traditional LWRs. But could it also provide an opportunity for more rapid proliferation, as is speculated in a 2023 National Academy of Sciences report on advanced nuclear reactors (nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/26630/)?

If a nuclear proliferator conspires to divert fresh nuclear fuel for weapons production when it has not been used in a reactor, the effort required in separative work units (SWUs) to enrich U-235 from 5 percent to 90 percent and that required to enrich from 20 percent to 90 percent are both very small, compared with the effort required to enrich U-235 from its natural abundance to the initial 5 percent.

Urenco awarded $245M to build U.K. HALEU facility

May 10, 2024, 7:01AMNuclear News
The Capenhurst site in Cheshire, England. (Photo: Urenco)

The U.K. government this week announced a $245 million (£196 million) award to help Urenco build Europe’s first advanced reactor fuel manufacturing plant, which will be located in northwest England at the company’s Capenhurst site. Urenco, which is part-owned by the U.K. government, will cofund the project.

The busyness of the nuclear fuel supply chain

May 7, 2024, 3:00PMNuclear NewsKen Petersen

Ken Petersen
president@ans.org

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.

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.

The arrow is pointing up

March 13, 2024, 7:10AMNuclear NewsKen Petersen

Ken Petersen
president@ans.org

There have been significant changes in the outlook for the existing U.S. nuclear fleet in the last few years. In 2021, we were looking at the early closure of units and could not even think of license extension. Since then, the combination of the U.S. government recognizing the clean-air benefits of nuclear and the impact of the war in Ukraine has resulted in a lot of positive activity on Capitol Hill for nuclear.

Several pieces of legislation have been passed in support of nuclear as law- and policymakers have recognized the important role nuclear power can play in achieving the nation’s clean-air goals. New legislation also is supporting reducing reliance on Russia for uranium enrichment by supporting the domestic production of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU).

The Civil Nuclear Credit (CNC) Program, which was part of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, included $6 billion to prevent premature retirement of existing zero-carbon nuclear plants. On January 17, the Department of Energy awarded Diablo Canyon $1.1 billion from the CNC Program to support continued operations of the plant.

Federal appropriations bills include $212 million hike in nuclear funding

March 5, 2024, 12:03PMNuclear News

New appropriations bills currently under review in the U.S. Congress include a significant funding boost for nuclear energy.

This week, ranking members of both the U.S. House and Senate released six fiscal year 2024 appropriations, including the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies bill that has nuclear energy funding for FY 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.

Informal survey asks when the next U.S. nuclear plant will come on line

January 23, 2024, 12:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe

Wesoff

According to an admittedly informal and unscientific survey of people from online “nuclear affinity groups” conducted by Eric Wesoff, the editorial director for clean energy newsroom Canary Media, there is no consensus regarding when the next nuclear power plant will come on line in the United States. Wesoff recently reported that upon polling his nuclear-connected network on LinkedIn, X, and Reddit, he found that “the responses were all over the map.”

Nuclear renaissance? Wesoff was prompted to try his survey about the expected date for the next nuclear plant because “conditions are perfect for the American nuclear renaissance.” He cited strong support for the nuclear industry from the Department of Energy as well as from public opinion polls and online “influencers.” He thought therefore that he would find confident predictions for when the next new U.S. reactor would go on line. Instead, he found uncertainty and varied responses.

A case of “nuclear power on the brain”

January 22, 2024, 12:22PMANS Nuclear Cafe

Crownhart

“I’ve got nuclear power on the brain this week.” So writes climate and energy reporter Casey Crownhart in a recent edition the Spark, the MIT Technology Review’s climate newsletter. In her article, Crownhart describes how, while she was conducting research on advanced nuclear energy for another article, she “went down some rabbit holes on . . . potential options for future nuclear plants” and has “reached new levels of obsession” about nuclear energy.

Nuclear primer: Crownhart’s article could serve as a primer for both basic nuclear and advanced nuclear technologies. She begins by discussing the “two absolutely essential pieces” of conventional nuclear power plants—namely, the enriched uranium fuel and the pressurized water cooling system—and explains that the cooling system “keeps the whole thing from getting too hot and causing problems.”

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.

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.

U.K. lays out plans to quadruple nuclear generation by 2050

January 12, 2024, 12:05PMNuclear News

The United Kingdom released plans yesterday for the biggest expansion of nuclear power in 70 years. Officials outlined Civil Nuclear: Roadmap to 2050 as an opportunity to improve the United Kingdom’s energy independence from foreign sources as it looks to build a new power station and invest in advanced nuclear fuel production.

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.

Lightbridge, Centrus to conduct study for pilot fuel fabrication plant

December 8, 2023, 9:32AMNuclear News

Signing CEOs: Centrus’s Daniel Poneman, left, and Lightbridge’s Seth Grae. (Photo: Lightbridge/X)

Nuclear fuel companies Lightbridge Corporation and Centrus Energy have announced a contract to conduct a front-end engineering and design (FEED) study to add a dedicated Lightbridge Pilot Fuel Fabrication Facility (LPFFF) at Centrus’s American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio.

Lightbridge chief executive officer Seth Grae and Centrus CEO Daniel Poneman inked the agreement yesterday at the COP28 conference, currently underway in the United Arab Emirates.

The FEED study, according to the joint announcement, will identify infrastructure and licensing requirements as well as the estimated cost and construction schedule for the LPFFF. Centrus’s wholly owned subsidiary, American Centrifuge Operating, will lead the study, which is expected to be completed sometime next year.

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.

INL makes—and prepares to test—commercial-grade HALEU fuel

November 28, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News
The project team included (from left to right) Jennifer Watkins, Seth Ashby, and Adrian Wagner. (Photo: INL)

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.