Atoms: Get more from your fuel

September 27, 2023, 5:57AMNuclear News

From the pages of the September 2023 issue of Nuclear News.

For decades, more energy has meant more fuel: fossil fuels.

But nuclear fuel—unlike coal, oil, or even natural uranium—is a feat of engineering, not a commodity extracted from the earth. Now, “more” means more engineering—to boost uranium density or to close the fuel cycle.

Advancing fuel production and performance for the next generation of reactors

September 26, 2023, 7:05AMNuclear NewsW. A. “Art” Wharton III

W. A. “Art” Wharton III

Multiple market forces on nuclear fuel have arisen seemingly at the same time since the Russian war in Ukraine started. Accident tolerant fuels (ATF), lead test rods, and lead test assemblies have had their first shot in real operating conditions, in recent cycles. But the popularity of their so-called accident tolerance has nothing to do with accidents, since any practical nuclear professional knows that the safety of nuclear energy is already higher than that of any other electricity generation source. The popularity comes down to fuel performance. Are we on the cusp of a revolution in nuclear fuel performance under the guise of accident tolerance?

New WNA report sees greater needs for fuel and power

September 12, 2023, 12:01PMANS Nuclear Cafe

According to the World Nuclear Association’s newly released Nuclear Fuel Report: Global Scenarios for Demand and Supply Availability 2023–2040, there will be more of an increased demand than previously anticipated for nuclear fuel services and nuclear power capacity over the next several years. The report notes that the increased need for nuclear energy is associated with government efforts to decarbonize energy supplies and achieve energy security as well as growing interest in deploying new large nuclear reactors and small modular reactors (SMRs). The report is available to order now.

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.

The U.S. nuclear fuel Gordian knot: The uncertain path forward

September 1, 2023, 3:07PMNuclear NewsMatt Wald

In the last few weeks of 2021, when it was clear that the Russian invasion of Ukraine had put this country’s uranium fuel supply in jeopardy, nuclear energy advocates lobbied hard to attach provisions to various pieces of “must-pass” legislation—such as the National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA), the Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act—to have the government get the ball rolling on new domestic uranium fuel production capacity. Four times they thought they had succeeded, that Congress was going to allocate enough money to start the United States on the road to a secure supply of reactor fuel, including the higher-enriched fuel needed for advanced reactors.

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.

Cameco, Urenco sign contracts for Kozloduy fuel supply

April 25, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News
Various officials (back row) look on at the fuel supply contract signing in Sofia, Bulgaria. Front row, from left: Angie Darkey, Uranium Asset Management’s managing director; Boris Schucht, Urenco CEO; Tim Gitzel, Cameco president and CEO; and Aziz Dag, Westinghouse senior vice president of global BWR & VVER fuel business.

Canada’s Cameco and U.K.-based Urenco last week jointly announced the signing of agreements to become part of a Westinghouse-led fuel supply chain for Bulgaria’s Kozloduy nuclear power plant. (Also included in the partnership is Uranium Asset Management.)

Five G7 nations form alliance to reduce reliance on Russian nuclear fuel

April 20, 2023, 3:00PMNuclear News
The ministers representing their respective nations as the statement on civil nuclear fuel cooperation was announced were (from left) Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of natural resources of Canada; Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan’s minister of economy, trade, and industry; Jennifer Granholm, U.S. energy secretary; Grant Shapps, U.K. energy security secretary; and Agnes Pannier-Runacher, French minister for energy transition.

A civil nuclear fuel security agreement between the five nuclear leaders of the G7—announced on April 16 on the sidelines of the G7 Ministers’ Meeting on Climate, Energy and Environment in Sapporo, Japan—establishes cooperation between Canada, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States to flatten Russia’s influence in the global nuclear fuel supply chain.

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).

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


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


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.