HALEU: A Key to Advanced Nuclear Designs

According to a USNIC working group meeting last month, there is a push to fund a High-Assay Low-Enrichment Uranium (HALEU) facility in 2030. Here, we explain some of the developments that are set to bolster the supply of HALEU & support advanced nuclear projects throughout the us.

High-Assay Low-Enrichment Uranium (HALEU), Uranium Enriched between 5% and 20% U-235, is one of the key components to realizing the benefits from many of the advanced nuclear projects currently being designed. The US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) has provided funding in support of the development of the TerraPower-GE Hitachi Natrium Reactor and the X-Energy XE-100 Reactor, both of which will use HALEU enriched fuel.  Additionally, for the current power reactors, many of the new Accident Tolerant Fuel (ATF) designs require access to uranium enriched in the HALEU range to either maintain or extend fuel cycle lengths.

The use of HALEU is not new to the industry nor to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Nuclear fuel designs in this enrichment range have been in use in research reactors for many years, but only of limited quantity.  To support the supply of HALEU needed for both current and advanced power reactor designs, significant changes will need to occur in both the fuel cycle and in the current NRC regulations and guidance.  Many of the current NRC fuel cycle licenses and regulations are based on enrichment, transportation, and production of nuclear fuel for the current fleet of power reactors with a maximum enrichment of 5%.

Over the last year, there have been a few notable developments in the nuclear fuel supply that have initiated changes in providing a sufficient supply of HALEU to support the advanced nuclear projects.  The American Centrifuge Operating, LLC, a subsidiary of Centrus, received a license amendment to demonstrate production of HALEU up to 20% U-235 at its Piketon, Ohio facility through May 31, 2022.  Oak Ridge National Laboratory updated the nuclear criticality analysis for their existing 30B transportation cylinder to support a license amendment to include the transport of up to 10% enriched UF6 between the enrichment and fuel manufacturing facilities.  Most recently, Southern Nuclear Company and Westinghouse have announced that lead test assemblies (LTAs) with a limited quantity of 6% enriched uranium fuel will be introduced into Vogtle Unit 2 as part of the continuation of the development and testing of ATF designs.

These activities mark the initial first steps to develop a sustainable HALEU fuel supply for the U.S. commercial fuel cycle. A stable supply of HALEU enriched fuel is one of the key components to both demonstrate and commercialize advanced reactors to meet U.S. carbon-free energy goals.

Original Video By Office of Nuclear Energy

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