8 Jan (NucNet): The US Department of Energy has issued a notice of intent to invest in a pilot programme to produce high-assay low-enriched uranium (Haleu) in the hope of accelerating the next generation of nuclear reactors.
The DOE plans to spend $115m to help develop advanced fuels for next-generation reactors.
Under a three-year pilot project announced yesterday, the money would go to an Ohio company to produce Haleu fuel, which uses a more energy-dense uranium, which the nuclear industry has been asking for to support a budding industry of smaller reactors.
DOE officials said they plan to award the contract to American Centrifuge Operating, a unit of Centrus Energy Corp, unless rival companies can make a compelling case by 22 January
Maria Korsnick, president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute lobby group said the pilot programme demonstrates continued confidence in the success of the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors and for new fuel options for the existing fleet.
The DOE’s investment is a significant starting point in the Haleu fuel infrastructure, she said.
The NEI said low-enriched uranium fuel used in today's nuclear power plants typically contains less than 5% of fissile uranium-235, but many of the advanced reactor designs currently under development will require Haleu fuel. There are no commercial facilities in the US that are immediately capable of producing Haleu fuel.
Centrus Energy says on its website that Haleu fuel has many advantages that improve reactor performance. Because the U235 is more concentrated, the fuel assemblies and reactors can be smaller, which is one reason why many small modular reactor designs will run on Halue fuel.
The reactors do not need to be refuelled as often, and they can achieve higher “burnup” rates, which means less fuel will be required and less waste will be produced.
Centrus said it is working under a contract with X-energy, a reactor and fuel company, to pursue the development of a fuel fabrication facility that would produce Haleu fuel that could power a variety of advanced reactors under development around the world, ensuring a US source of supply for this emerging industry.