US HALEU facility set for 2022 start-up

23 March 2021

The USA's first production facility for high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) is expected to begin production early next year, Centrus Energy has announced. The facility is under construction at Piketon, Ohio.

The HALEU Demonstration Program (Image: Centrus)

Centrus is licensing and constructing the cascade of 16 AC100M centrifuges to demonstrate production of HALEU under a three year, USD115 million cost-shared contract signed in 2019 with the US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy.

"Centrus has completed all required HALEU Demonstration Program milestones to date and remains on track to complete the remaining milestones on time," the company said today. Programme completion is expected "no later than June 2022".

HALEU fuel is enriched to between 5% and 20% uranium-235 and will be required by many advanced reactor designs that are currently under development, but is not yet commercially available in the USA. Nine of the 10 reactor designs selected by the DOE for its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program are expected to operate on HALEU, Centrus said. The objective of the Centrus contract is to demonstrate a technology that could be used for any type of reactor - including defence reactors - that require the use of HALEU fuel produced using US-origin technology.

"Despite the impact of the pandemic and the extraordinary steps we have taken to protect our workforce - including limiting the number of people who can be on the construction site at any one time - we have kept construction on track and expect to begin producing HALEU by next year," Centrus President and CEO Daniel Poneman said. "We believe this first-of-a-kind facility can play a critical role in meeting both government and commercial requirements for HALEU, powering America's nuclear leadership as the world turns to a new generation of advanced reactors and advanced nuclear fuels."

Centrus is building the HALEU facility at the American Centrifuge Plant site in Piketon. The company last year submitted a request to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to modify its commercial licence - which already permits it to enrich uranium up to 10% uranium-235 - to allow it to enrich up to 20%.

Assembly of all AC100M gas centrifuges has now been completed, Centrus said today. The centrifuges will undergo final preparations prior to being installed into the production cascade. Design and engineering work on balance of plant systems is near completion and system construction is well under way, the company said, and auxiliary and support systems necessary for operation of the cascade are being installed.

To support the construction effort, Centrus said it has "reactivated" its domestic supply chain for centrifuge components and supporting equipment, and restored its capacity to manufacture centrifuge parts in its Oak Ridge, Tennessee, manufacturing facility. The Demonstration Program has to date supported more than 200 direct jobs in Ohio and Tennessee, as well as supply chain jobs in numerous states, and the workforce necessary for cascade operations is already in place.

"Subject to the availability of funding and/or offtake contracts, Centrus can build additional centrifuges and support equipment to expand production in the facility in a modular fashion to meet whatever level of production is required for commercial and/or US government purposes," it said.

The American Centrifuge demonstration uranium enrichment plant at Piketon was built to demonstrate the long-term performance and reliability of US-developed centrifuge enrichment technology prior to commercial deployment in the planned American Centrifuge Plant. It ceased operation in 2016, after three years of operations. The American Centrifuge Plant project was eventually halted after problems securing federal loan guarantees.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News