US DOE announces funding for HALEU demonstration

11 November 2022

The USD150 million cost-shared award will see a Centrus Energy Corp subsidiary demonstrate US ability to produce high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) for advanced reactors, with an enrichment cascade producing up to 20 kg of HALEU in operation by the end of next year.

Centrifuge casings at the Piketon HALEU demonstration facility (Image: Centrus)

The award includes a USD30 million cost share during the first year to start up and operate 16 advanced centrifuges in a demonstration cascade at DOE's facility in Piketon, Ohio, enabling Centrus subsidiary American Centrifuge Operating to complete the final steps of centrifuge assembly and clear an operational readiness review before enriching uranium hexafluoride gas to produce 20 kg of 19.75% enriched HALEU by 31 December 2023, meeting the demonstration requirements of the ongoing programme. Production will continue in 2024 at a rate of 900 kg of HALEU per year, subject to appropriations, with additional options to produce more material under the contract in future years.

Building the USA's domestic supply chain for HALEU - and reducing reliance on "adversarial nations" will allow the country to grow its advanced reactor fleet and provide more clean, affordable power, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said. "This demonstration shows DOE's commitment to working with industry partners to kickstart HALEU production at commercial scale to create more clean energy jobs and ensure the benefits of nuclear energy are accessible to all Americans," she added.

HALEU - which is enriched to between 5% and 20% uranium-235 - will be required by many advanced reactor designs that are under development, but it is not yet commercially available in the USA. The DOE projects that the USA will require more than 40 tonnes of HALEU before the end of the decade, with additional amounts required each year, to deploy a new fleet of advanced reactors to support the current administration's goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035. "Establishing a sustainable commercial HALEU production is essential to meeting our long-term objectives," the DOE said.

Piketon is currently the only US facility which is licensed to produce HALEU. The cascade demonstration programme is intended to address near-term HALEU needs and will be used to support fuel qualification testing and DOE-supported advanced reactor demonstration projects, the department said.

DOE said it is pursuing multiple pathways to produce HALEU through its HALEU Availability Program authorized by the Energy Act of 2020 to meet the pressing need for the material, and the Inflation Reduction Act - signed into law by President Joe Biden in August - included a USD700 million support package. Following the HALEU demonstration, the centrifuge technology used at the facility will be available for commercial deployment.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News