Licensing 'first' for US nuclear fuel plant

27 April 2009

Areva's Richland nuclear fuel fabrication facility has received the go-ahead for four more decades of operations after receiving the first ever 40-year renewal of a nuclear facility licence in the USA.

The Richland facility produces uranium oxide (UO2) powder, pellets and fuel rod components as well as fuel assemblies for both pressurised water reactors (PWRs) and boiling water reactors (BWRs). It is licensed to possess and process uranium enriched to a maximum of 5% uranium-235. With a conversion capacity of 12,000 tonnes of uranium per year and fuel fabrication capacity of 500 tonnes of uranium per year, the plant has been in operation for over 35 years.

Licence terms for fuel fabrication facilities in the USA are not specified in legislation or Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) documents. In practice, according to the NRC, the terms depend on the individual facility, its safety programs and procedures and its aging management program. Up to now, NRC has licensed fuel fabrication facilities for maximum terms of 20 years, although it authorised extending the maximum licence term to 40 years in 2006. Areva submitted its application to renew the Richland facility's licence in October 2006.

Areva NP Inc owns and operates the plant as the US nuclear fuel cycle arm of French nuclear corporation Areva.