Centrus HALEU plant receives regulatory clearance

15 June 2023

The US nuclear fuel and services company Centrus has completed its operational readiness reviews and received regulatory approval to possess uranium at its Piketon, Ohio site and introduce uraniumĀ into the cascade of centrifuges it has constructed there. The company said it remains on track to begin production of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) at the plant before the end of the year.

The Piketon centrifuge cascade (Image: Centrus)

Centrus began construction of the demonstration cascade of 16 centrifuges in 2019 under contract with the US Department of Energy (DOE), and last year secured a further USD150 million of cost-shared funding to finish the cascade, complete final regulatory steps, begin operating the cascade, and produce up to 20 kg of HALEU by the end of this year. The operational readiness reviews were required under the Centrus licence from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which was amended in 2021 to allow the Piketon facility to produce HALEU.

HALEU fuel contains uranium enriched to between 5% and 20% uranium-235 - higher than the uranium fuel used in light-water reactors currently in operation, which typically contains up to 5% uranium-235. It will be needed by most of the advanced reactor designs being developed under the DOE's Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program. But the lack of a commercial supply chain to support these reactors has prompted the DOE to launch a programme to stimulate the development of a domestic source of HALEU.

"Centrus continues to meet every contract milestone on time and on budget, putting us in position to pioneer US HALEU production to meet the needs of the department and the nuclear industry," said Centrus President and CEO Daniel Poneman. "By establishing a secure, reliable American source of HALEU, we can help enable the commercialisation of a whole new generation of US-designed advanced nuclear reactors to supply the carbon-free energy the world needs."

Construction of the cascade and most of the support systems is now complete, and initial testing has been completed, Centrus said. Next steps will be the construction of the on-site HALEU storage area and final testing activities prior to operation, with initial HALEU production set to begin by the end of the year.

Centrus has previously said it could scale up the Piketon facility for expanded HALEU production, subject to sufficient funding or offtake contracts. A full cascade of 120 individual centrifuge machines, with a combined capacity of approximately 6,000 kilograms of HALEU per year, could be brought online within about 42 months of securing funding, according to the company.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News