Next-generation technologies boosted by US NFWG

27 April 2020

Support for the development of next-generation technologies and advanced fuels outlined in the report of the US Nuclear Fuel Working Group (NFWG), published last week, will enable the country to remain competitive in this area, the Nuclear Energy Institute has said. Meanwhile, fuel cycle company Centrus said immediate action to restore the viability of the front-end of the US nuclear fuel cycle supports work to demonstrate the production of high-assay low-enriched uranium nuclear fuels and to establish an assured US supply base.

The American Centrifuge 120-machine demonstration cascade, which operated from 2013-2016 at Piketon, Ohio (Image: Centrus)

The USA has gone from being the world's largest exporter of nuclear fuel to the world's biggest importer, Centrus said. The collapse of US uranium mining, conversion and enrichment capabilities has greatly reduced the country's influence in the nuclear fuel market - and with it, US leverage to insist upon the highest standards of safety and non-proliferation in exchange for US exports of nuclear fuel, it added.

Centrus President and CEO Daniel Poneman welcomed the support to fund HALEU R&D and to complete the HALEU enrichment demonstration programme in the NFWG report.

"And we strongly support favourable consideration of the expansion of the American Assured Fuel Supply - including unobligated enriched uranium - and its merger with the new Uranium Reserve, to enable the United States to regain its lost self-sufficiency in the front end of the fuel cycle," he said.

The NFWG was established last July to undertake a fuller analysis of national security considerations with respect to the entire nuclear fuel supply chain following a presidential decision on a Section 232 Petition from two US uranium miners, Energy Fuels Inc and Ur-Energy, which called for a quota on uranium imports. The group's report, which was published on 23 April, focuses on restoring the entire domestic nuclear fuel supply chain that is needed for national security missions.

"Foreign-origin uranium and foreign-owned enrichment and conversion all carry binding restrictions imposed by other governments prohibiting their use for US national security purposes. That is why the report’s call to support unobligated production - meaning production with US technology that is free from foreign government restrictions - is so important," Centrus said.

The USA has had no uranium enrichment capability to meet its needs for unobligated uranium since the 2013 closure of the Paducah enrichment plant.

The report also provides strong support for Centrus’ ongoing work on behalf of the US Department of Energy (DOE) to deploy centrifuges in Ohio that will demonstrate the production of HALEU, the company said. Centrus last November signed a three-year contract with the DOE to deploy a cascade of centrifuges to demonstrate production of HALEU fuel for advanced reactors. Establishing an assured US-based source of this new fuel is essential for the country's innovative advanced reactor designers to be able to compete in the global market against foreign companies that are backed by large, state-owned enrichment enterprises, Centrus said.

Long-term relationships

NEI President and CEO Maria Korsnick said the actions recommended by the NFWG would strengthen national security, sustain a resilient energy system and put the nation on a path to a cleaner environment.

Support for the development of next-generation technologies and advanced fuels would "drive innovation across the industry and keep America competitive in this strategic sector", Korsnick said. Actions to bolster export financing, strengthen export coordination and open new markets to US firms "will enable the US to foster 100-year relationships through nuclear energy exports and technology cooperation", she added.

"We appreciate continued attention to the economic challenges facing the existing nuclear fleet. However, more actions should be taken to preserve the plants operating today, and we will continue to work with Congress to ensure the industry is included in legislative proposals for tax credits and other incentives to the energy sector," she said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News