HALEU and the promise of nuclear energy: An interview with the DOE’s Kathryn Huff

November 4, 2022, 3:01PMNuclear News

Kathryn Huff

Deploying a fleet of advanced reactors in the 2030s means deploying high-assay low- enriched uranium (HALEU) infrastructure now.

The future fleet will need more than 40 metric tons of HALEU by 2030, according to Department of Energy projections. Getting to the 5–20 percent fissile uranium-235 content of HALEU involves either enriching natural or low-enriched uranium (LEU) or downblending high-enriched uranium (HEU).

Because downblending the limited stocks of HEU held at the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory and Savannah River Site is a short-term option at best, the Energy Act of 2020 authorized a HALEU Availability Program to build a sustainable enrichment infrastructure by the time advanced reactors are ready for commercial deployment.

Comments on a request for information reached the DOE in February 2022, just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amplified global energy security concerns. While the war in Ukraine didn’t change the DOE’s plans, it “accelerated everything,” said Kathryn Huff, who leads the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE) as assistant secretary. “Our attention is now laser-focused on this issue in a way that it wouldn’t have been in the past.”

Preventative Maintenance for Improved Fuel Reliability & Performance

October 4, 2022, 12:02PMSponsored ContentDominion Engineering Inc.

The process of making fuel for our light-water nuclear plants is meticulously developed and executed. And as anyone who has gone through the receipt process once it arrives at the plant can attest, the initial quality examination is likewise a thorough and rigorous activity. We do a great job of making sure that high quality fuel is ready to go into the core.

ANS Grand Challenge: Closing the nuclear fuel cycle

February 15, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear NewsANS FCWMD Executive Committee

It seems like only yesterday that former ANS President Andy Klein announced the nine ANS Nuclear Grand Challenges that need to be addressed to ensure that existing and emerging nuclear technologies benefit current and future generations. The Fuel Cycle and Waste Management Division (FCWMD) immediately began tackling the grand challenge of closing the nuclear fuel cycle by sponsoring recurring panel sessions on the topic at subsequent ANS meetings.

Q&A with Monica Regalbuto: Shaping a sustainable HALEU economy

February 11, 2022, 2:31PMNuclear NewsSusan Gallier

Regalbuto

High-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) is the power-dense feedstock of choice for a slew of advanced reactor designs. There’s just one problem: It isn’t available . . . yet. Downblending high-­enriched uranium owned by the Department of Energy to between 5 and 19.75 percent fissile U-235 is a stopgap measure at best, and no U.S. facility can yet produce commercial quantities of uranium above the 5 percent U-235 limit for low-enriched uranium.

The problem is one not of technology, but of economics: Enrichment companies want to see clear market signals that advanced reactors will be deployed in quantity, leading to long-term purchase agreements that will justify investments made today.

ANS Fellow Monica Regalbuto is director of Nuclear Fuel Cycle Strategy at Idaho National Laboratory, tasked with leveraging her more than 30 years of fuel cycle experience to ensure an adequate domestic supply of HALEU. She was invited to speak about her work during the opening plenary session of the 2021 ANS Winter Meeting.

The need for a metallic nuclear fuels qualification plan

February 4, 2022, 3:13PMNuclear NewsHank Hogan, Steven Hayes, Nicolas Woolstenhulme, and Colby Jensen

Positioning nuclear power to combat climate change requires the rollout of advanced reactors to replace carbon-­emitting power generation. That necessity, and its urgency, is reflected in recent budget proposals for the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. Part of that proposed funding focuses on deploying new fuel technologies.

Metallic fuels, which are alloys of fissionable material, offer several advantages, including more fuel-­efficient reactors with a double or greater fuel burnup than the oxide fuels found in light water reactors. Fuel fabrication is also more cost-­effective with metallic fuels than with oxide fuels. Furthermore, much of the research and development effort needed to qualify these metallic fuels has been done.

AI accelerates search for safer, more durable materials for nuclear reactors

December 23, 2021, 9:30AMNuclear NewsJohn Spizzirri
A cutaway view of a nuclear reactor. Its construction consists of two essential material types: fuel, which comprises the rods and cores that hold the fuel (center vertical bands); and structural, those parts of the reactor that house the fuel materials. (Graphic: Shutterstock/petrov-k)

Researchers from the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory are developing a “tool kit” based on artificial intelligence that will help better determine the properties of materials used in building a nuclear reactor.

Nuclear fuel considerations in the development of advanced reactors

December 8, 2021, 12:04PMNuclear NewsGary Mignogna

Mignogna

The world faces an urgent need to decarbonize and expand clean energy systems. Earlier this year, the United States announced goals to achieve a 100 percent clean electricity grid by 2035 and net-zero emissions across the entire economy by 2050. Today, nuclear energy plants provide more than 50 percent of the United States’ carbon-free energy. Existing plants, along with the advanced technologies currently being developed and demonstrated, are crucial to the United States’ and the world’s clean energy future.

Technologies such as advanced non-light water reactors, which have higher operating temperatures than today’s light water reactors, will be vital to meeting economy-wide decarbonization goals. For example, process heat applications and chemical and synthetic fuel production require higher temperatures and currently rely on fossil fuels. Advanced reactors are the only carbon-free technologies that can provide the high temperatures these processes need.