Representatives of OPG and its partners announced new contracts at the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris. (Photo: X/@urencoglobal)
At the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris this week, Ontario Power Generation announced contracts with Canadian, French, and U.S. companies to ensure a fuel supply for the first of four GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy BWRX-300 small modular reactors planned for deployment at OPG’s Darlington nuclear power plant.
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.
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.)
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).
From left: Christina Leggett (Booz Allen Hamilton), Morris Hassler (IB3 Global Solutions), Everett Redmond (Oklo), Andy Griffith (DOE-NE), Ben Jordan (Centrus), Stephen Long (GLE), and Magnus Mori (Urenco).
Whether commercial demand for high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel ultimately falls at the high or low end of divergent forecasts, one thing is certain: the United States is not ready to meet demand, because it currently has no domestic HALEU enrichment capacity. But conversations happening now could help build the commercial HALEU enrichment infrastructure needed to support advanced reactor deployments. At the 2022 American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting, representatives from three potential HALEU enrichers, the government, and industry met to discuss their timelines and challenges during “Got Fuel? Progress Toward Establishing a Domestic US HALEU Supply,” a November 15 executive session cosponsored by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy Division and the Fuel Cycle and Waste Management Division.
Participating in the forum were (from left) John Hopkins (NuScale Power), Renaud Crassous (EDF), Daniel Poneman (Centrus Energy), Adriana Cristina Serquis (CNEA), and Boris Schucht (Urenco).
The nuclear industry leaders assembled in Washington, D.C., last week to discuss small modular reactor supply chains agreed that lost generation capacity from the expected retirement of hundreds or thousands of coal power plants over the next decade—a cliff, in one panelist’s words—represents an opportunity that developers of SMRs and advanced reactors are competing to meet.
“I think in total 80 projects are ongoing,” said Boris Schucht, panel moderator and chief executive officer of Urenco Group, as he opened the forum. “Of course not all of them will win, and we will discuss today what is needed so that they can be successful.”
(Click photo to enlarge) One of 16 AC100M gas centrifuges built by Centrus Energy for HALEU production in Piketon, Ohio. (Photo: Centrus Energy)
For years, pressure has been building for a commercial path to a stable supply of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU)—deemed essential for the deployment of advanced power reactors—but advanced reactor developers and enrichment companies are still watching and waiting. In contrast, the uranium spot price soared after Sprott Physical Uranium Trust, a Canadian investment fund formed in July, began buying up U3O8 supplies, causing the price to increase over 60 percent, topping $50 per pound for the first time since 2012. Fueled by growing acknowledgment that nuclear power is a necessary part of a clean energy future, uranium is the focus of attention from Wall Street to Capitol Hill.