TerraPower has announced plans to team with nuclear fuel and services provider Centrus Energy to establish commercial-scale, domestic production capabilities for high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU). This, it says, will be needed to fuel many next-generation reactor designs, including the recently announced Natrium Power Storage System designed by TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.
Existing reactors typically operate on low-enriched uranium (LEU), usually containing up to 5% uranium-235. HALEU fuel, which is enriched to between 5% and 20% uranium-235, will be required by many advanced reactor designs that are under development in both the commercial and government sectors, but such fuel is not yet commercially available. HALEU offers improved reactor economics, greater fuel efficiency, enhanced safety and proliferation resistance, lower volumes of waste and other advantages.
TerraPower – a company largely funded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates – said the proposed investment with Centrus is part of the TerraPower-led proposal for the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). This programme is intended to support the deployment of two first-of-a-kind advanced reactor designs in the next five to seven years.
The ARDP requires applicants to “establish a plan by which they would obtain the fuel/special nuclear material needed for their projects.” The TerraPower application proposes that, if selected for ARDP, the company would work with Centrus to build commercial-scale capacity to produce HALEU and fabricate it into metal fuel assemblies.
Under plans announced by TerraPower and Centrus, the first year of scope initiates the HALEU production facility’s design and licensing and involves detailed planning and cost estimating for implementation of the new infrastructure and production.
Centrus is currently working under a three-year, USD115 million cost-shared contract with the DOE to deploy 16 of its AC-100M centrifuges at its Piketon, Ohio, facility to demonstrate HALEU production. Once the demonstration is complete in mid-2022, TerraPower would work with Centrus to expand the plant to meet the fuel requirements of the Natrium demonstration reactor.
“We are investing in American capability because it offers advantages related to assured domestic supply for the Natrium technology’s long-term commercialisation prospects,” said TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque. “We are pleased that this effort supports broader Department of Energy goals with regard to HALEU production and market deployment of domestic advanced reactor technology.”
“By catalysing commercial-scale HALEU production, the proposed investment would put America in the leadership position when it comes to fueling the advanced reactors of tomorrow,” said Centrus President and CEO Daniel Poneman. “This partnership with TerraPower would enable us to expand beyond demonstration scale and we have more than enough room at the Ohio plant to continue expanding uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication capability as demand grows and the market matures.”
In late August, TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) launched the Natrium concept, which features a 345 MWe sodium fast reactor combined with a molten salt energy storage system.
To ensure that both the reactor can be commercialised within five to seven years and that new HALEU production capacity can be built, the Natrium proposal includes additional private investment levels, beyond the 50% cost share minimum required by the DOE for ARDP demonstration reactors. This additional investment, TerraPower said, will be used to build HALEU infrastructure that can benefit the large number of advanced reactor developers planning on using HALEU.
In addition to creating HALEU production capacity, TerraPower and its partners plan to establish a new Category II metal fuel fabrication facility that is scaled to meet the needs of the Natrium demonstration programme. The facility will include the capability to manufacture the Natrium technology’s advanced metal fuel forms that will be included as lead test assemblies in the demonstration plant. Specific terms of the agreement have not been disclosed.
Source: World Nuclear News