Inflation Reduction Act makes 'down payment' on HALEU

23 August 2022

Centrus and GLE have welcomed the USD700 million support package to develop high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) included in the US Inflation Reduction Act to develop the infrastructure needed to fuel next generation of nuclear reactors.

The Inflation Reduction Act, signed by the President (Image: White House)

HALEU fuel - enriched to between 5% and 20% uranium-235 - will be required by many advanced reactor designs that are under development, but it is not yet commercially available in the USA. Developers of nine of the 10 advanced reactor designs selected for funding under the Department of Energy's (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, including two demonstration reactors that are to be built within the next seven years, are expected to use such fuels. The act - signed into law on 16 August by President Joe Biden - allocates funding to develop a domestic supply chain.

US company Centrus Energy, under a 2019 contract from the US DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, is deploying a cascade of AC100M centrifuges at the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio, in the first facility licensed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for HALEU production.

The new act is a "historic commitment to combating climate change while restoring America’s nuclear leadership on the world stage," Centrus President and CEO Daniel Poneman said following the act's signature into law. "Establishing the necessary infrastructure to produce and transport HALEU will take sustained public and private investment over several years. The USD700 million in the new law represents a critical down payment on this effort."

North Carolina-based Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) - a joint venture of Australian company Silex Systems Limited (51%) and Canadian uranium and nuclear fuel provider Cameco Corporation (49%) and the exclusive licensee of the SILEX laser technology for uranium enrichment - also welcomed the passage of the act, which also requires that DOE award funding under the HALEU programme must be pursuant to a competitive, merit-based review process.

"The IRA's investments are an important step in creating domestic sources of HALEU to fuel SMRs," said GLE President and Chief Commercial Officer James Dobchuk. "GLE's technology is well suited to producing HALEU, and we look forward to working with DOE, Congress, industry and other stakeholders on implementing the funding under this bill." CEO Stephen Longs said GLE is "excited about the role that the company can play in supporting the front-end of the fuel cycle for this essential clean energy source."

According to a preliminary assessment issued by the DOE, the wide-ranging act, which includes support for existing and new nuclear, as well as the development of domestic sources HALEU - will help drive the USA's 2030 economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 2005 levels and get the country "a significant way" towards its overall 2030 climate goals.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News