USA preparing to lead advanced nuclear fuel supply, says Korsnick

13 April 2021

There is bipartisan support in the USA for the country to be the world's leading supplier of fuel for advanced reactors, Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), said today during the World Nuclear Fuel Cycle forum, which the NEI is co-hosting this week with World Nuclear Association.

Maria Korsnick, NEI president and CEO

Noting that, last year, nuclear became the USA's second biggest source of electricity, surpassing coal for the first time ever, and that the US nuclear fleet produced more carbon-free electricity than all of the forms of renewable energy combined, Korsnick said nuclear is increasingly being recognised by lawmakers as a carbon-free and scalable source of electricity.

"Ambitious climate commitments really demand a reimagined energy system with our largest, most reliable carbon-free source at its centre," she said. "And already the Biden Administration has signaled that they agree. The President recently announced its USD2 trillion American Jobs Plan and this legislation would establish a national clean energy standard that includes nuclear; recognising its carbon-free production alongside sources like wind and solar. The plan would also include significant funding for the development of advanced nuclear technology."

Jennifer Granholm, the new secretary of energy, has "spoken about her commitments to all emission-free technologies, including nuclear", Korsnick said, and John Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate, "has stated his strong support for US nuclear exports". "So we're really building an unparalleled coalition for making nuclear energy the core of our clean energy system, but it will take a global effort to realise nuclear's full potential," she said.

The future of nuclear includes advanced reactor technologies, which "also causes us to have a look at US leadership more broadly", she said.

"With advanced reactors you have to say, What fuel are they going to run on? Many of these advanced reactors are going to require high assay and low-enriched uranium (HALEU). The US government has recognised the timing challenge for commercial entities to build out HALEU capacity without yet a clear market signal and so it's taking concrete steps for the US to lead in this area," she said.

Last year Congress passed legislation that instructed the US Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a HALEU programme, and by this time next year, Centrus will be producing HALEU in their pilot facility, she said.

"So we really see the DOE providing a function as a market pool to try to get things started here in the United States to drive commercial entities here, whether that's Centrus or Urenco or Global Laser Enrichment, to give those signals to build out that HALEU capacity."

Those actions, along with Congress passing support for the US uranium reserve, are "really reinvigorating" the entire US fuel supply chain and could allow the country to be a leading global supplier of advanced fuels, she said.

Existing power and research reactors typically operate on low-enriched uranium, usually 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. HALEU offers improved reactor economics, greater fuel efficiency, enhanced safety and proliferation resistance, lower volumes of waste and other advantages.

Centrus Energy is working under a USD115 million cost-shared contract with the DOE to deploy 16 of its AC-100M centrifuges at its Piketon, Ohio, facility to demonstrate HALEU production.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News