Centrus signs HALEU contract with Department of Energy

06 November 2019

US company Centrus Energy Corp has signed a three-year contract with the Department of Energy (DOE) to deploy a cascade of centrifuges to demonstrate production of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel for advanced reactors.

The American Centrifuge Plant at Piketon (Image: Centrus)

The contract includes licensing, constructing, assembling and operating AC100M centrifuge machines and related infrastructure in a cascade formation to produce HALEU at the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio, for the demonstration programme. The DOE in January announced plans to award a contract to Centrus to demonstrate the production of HALEU in a cascade of 16 AC-100M centrifuges at Piketon, and work is already under way on the programme following the signature of a preliminary letter agreement in May.

"Our partnership with the US Department of Energy to develop and demonstrate a US source of high-assay, low-enriched uranium will help America lead the transition to the next generation of advanced reactors," Centrus President and CEO Daniel Poneman said.

Existing reactors typically operate on low-enriched uranium (LEU), typically containing up to 5% uranium-235. HALEU fuel, which is enriched to between 5% and 20% uranium-235, will be required by many advanced reactor designs that are under development in both the commercial and government sectors, but such fuel is not yet commercially available.

According to Centrus, HALEU's higher uranium-235 concentration gives it several potential technical and economic advantages: the higher concentration of uranium means that fuel assemblies and reactors can be smaller and reactors will require less frequent refuelling; higher burnup rates mean smaller volumes of fuel will be required overall and less waste produced; and new HALEU-based fuels could bring improved economics and inherent safety features while increasing the amount of electricity that can be generated at existing reactors.

The lack of a domestic source of HALEU is widely seen as an obstacle to the USA in the global market for advanced reactors, Centrus said, citing a 2017 survey in which 67% of "leading US advanced reactor companies" said that an assured supply of HALEU was either "urgent" or "important" to their company. The survey also showed that the lack of a US supplier was the most frequently cited concern with respect to HALEU, it added.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News