General Atomics’ silicon carbide composite cladding is put to the test

July 11, 2024, 7:00AMNuclear News
SiGA woven silicon carbide nuclear fuel cladding. (Photo: DOE)

Because of its hardness and its hardiness in the face of high temperatures, silicon carbide has been used for industrial purposes for decades. It has proven its worth as a key component of tiny TRISO fuel particles. But SiC has a weakness—in its pure form it is too brittle for use in structural components, such as 12-foot-long light water reactor fuel cladding tubes.

With $3.4 billion to spend, the DOE opens RFP for low-enriched uranium

June 28, 2024, 12:01PMNuclear News

The Department of Energy released an anticipated request for proposals on June 27 for low-enriched uranium enrichment. “Today’s action will help spur the safe and responsible build-out of uranium enrichment capacity in the United States, promote diversity in the market, and provide a reliable supply of commercial nuclear fuel to support the energy security and resilience of the American people and domestic industries, free from Russian influence,” the DOE declared.

TerraPower backs metallic HALEU pilot plant at Framatome’s Richland site

June 3, 2024, 7:01AMNuclear News
Framatome’s fuel fabrication facility in Richland, Wash. (Photo: Framatome)

TerraPower announced May 29 that it will work with Framatome North America to fund the high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) metallization pilot plant that Framatome is building at its fuel fabrication facility in Richland, Wash. A successful demonstration of Framatome’s capability of converting enriched uranium oxide to HALEU metal will “support the development of the domestic HALEU supply chain,” both companies say.

DOE ready to consider Russian U ban waivers

May 29, 2024, 7:01AMNuclear News

Utilities need to know months ahead of a scheduled refueling outage that fresh fuel will be on-site and ready to load. Now that the Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act has been signed into law, U.S. utilities with plans to use Russian-origin low-enriched uranium also need to know if they can secure a waiver for imports through December 31, 2027—subject to specific annual limits—if “no alternative viable source of [LEU] is available to sustain the continued operation of a nuclear reactor or a United States nuclear energy company” or if LEU imports from Russia are “in the national interest.”

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.

The busyness of the nuclear fuel supply chain

May 7, 2024, 3:00PMNuclear NewsKen Petersen

Ken Petersen

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.

Fuel supply chain updates as U.S. and allies “sever dependency” on Russian U

April 30, 2024, 9:30AMNuclear News

The United States has an ambitious goal: to establish a high-assay low enriched-uranium advanced nuclear fuel supply chain, revive the once thriving nuclear fuel market for low-enriched uranium in the nation, and “reestablish U.S. leadership in nuclear energy more broadly.” Making a success of that could have impacts beyond the nuclear sector. According to the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, “Expanding domestic LEU and HALEU enrichment production will be essential for fueling the clean energy required to bring down emissions in all sectors of the economy—including in hard-to-abate sectors such as manufacturing and industrial—while delivering high paying jobs to communities across the country.”

Bulgaria's Kozloduy plant switching to Westinghouse fuel

April 23, 2024, 9:07AMNuclear News
Bulgarian prime minister Dimitar Glavchev, left, and acting energy minister Vladimir Malinov visited Kozloduy nuclear power plant, where Westinghouse is lined up to build two new reactors. (Photo: gov.bg)

Bulgarian officials have approved the transition to Westinghouse fuel at the nation's Kozloduy nuclear power plant, as Bulgaria moves away from its reliance on Russian supplies. The fuel was recently delivered for use in Unit 5.

Thorium-HALEU fuel pellets begin ATR irradiation campaign

April 15, 2024, 12:00PMNuclear News
ANEEL fuel experiment capsules being staged at the ATR. (Photo: Clean Core)

Clean Core Thorium Energy (Clean Core) has announced that its ANEEL fuel is ready to begin irradiation testing and qualification at Idaho National Laboratory. The fuel, made of thorium and HALEU, was developed by Clean Core for use in pressurized heavy water reactors, including CANDU (Canadian deuterium-uranium) reactors. Irradiation of the fuel samples in INL’s Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) is set to begin this month.

Can hydrogen be the transportation fuel in an otherwise nuclear economy?

March 28, 2024, 3:00PMNuclear NewsJames Conca

Let’s face it: The global economy should be powered primarily by nuclear power. And it probably will by the end of this century, with a still-significant assist from renewables and hydro. Once nuclear systems are dominant, the costs come down to where gas is now; and when carbon emissions are reduced to a small portion of their present state, it will become obvious that most other sources are only good in niche settings. I mean, why use small modular reactors to load-follow when they can just produce that power instead of buffering it?

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.

Lightbridge announces first U-Zr fuel rod samples extruded at INL

March 18, 2024, 3:12PMNuclear News
The extrusion in progress. (Photo: INL/Lightbridge)

Lightbridge Corporation announced today that it has reached “a critical milestone” in the development of its extruded solid fuel technology. Coupon samples using an alloy of zirconium and depleted uranium—not the high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) that Lightbridge plans to use to manufacture its fuel for the commercial market—were extruded at Idaho National Laboratory’s Materials and Fuels Complex.

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.

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.

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.

Bull market continues for uranium stocks

January 9, 2024, 7:00AMANS Nuclear Cafe
[Click to see full graphic] Western base demand (white line) for uranium will continue to outpace the combined existing production (dark green), secondary supply (middle green), and returning mine production (light green) through 2040, according to projections. (Image: Paladin Energy)

Investors continue to be bullish on uranium, according to a number of recent news reports. Stockhead recently trumpeted, “Uranium has started 2024 the same way it ended 2023—like a bull in a china shop. Spot prices are now agonizingly close to US$100/lb for the first time since 2008, with term pricing not far behind.” Similarly, Mining.com noted, “The spot price of uranium continues to rise, boosted by pledges to triple nuclear power by mid-century, supply hiccups from producers such as Cameco . . . , and the looming threat of a ban on Russian exports to the West.”

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.