Marking a significant milestone, Centrus Power—a agency beneath contract with the U.S. Division of Power (DOE) to exhibit manufacturing of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) with home know-how—on Feb. 9 mentioned it accomplished development and preliminary testing of its superior uranium enrichment centrifuge cascade in addition to most of its related help techniques.
As soon as the corporate completes the remaining works associated to help techniques at its facility leased from the DOE in Piketon, Ohio, it’s going to search the Nuclear Regulatory Fee’s (NRC’s) inexperienced gentle to exhibit HALEU, the corporate mentioned. If granted, the power “would be the first new U.S.-owned, U.S.-technology enrichment plant to start manufacturing in 70 years,” it famous.
An Urgency for HALEU Provide
The primary-of-a-kind demonstration has been delayed, however eagerly awaited, given its implications for assuaging—even when reasonably—provides of HALEU, a type of uranium-235 gas enriched to twenty%. Consultants word that as a result of HALEU is enriched larger than the 4% to five% degree sometimes utilized in current reactors, it might present extra energy per quantity than standard reactors, and its effectivity permits for smaller plant sizes. The gas kind additionally guarantees longer core life and a better burn-up price of nuclear waste. Many superior nuclear reactor designs, together with 9 of the ten designs awarded beneath the DOE’s Superior Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), require HALEU. However at present, HALEU is obtainable from solely two sources: restricted quantities from the DOE by way of down-blending of current stockpiles of fabric and from industrial provides by way of TENEX, a nuclear gas firm owned by Russian state-owned firm Rosatom.
When Centrus’s cascade of 16 AC100M centrifuges is up and working as deliberate by Dec. 31, 2023, it’s going to exhibit the manufacturing of 20 kilograms (kg) of 19.75% enriched HALEU, as required by a $150 million “definitized contract” the DOE awarded the corporate in November 2022. The contract spans two phases by way of 2024. Beneath Part 2, Centrus plans to proceed manufacturing for a full yr at an annual manufacturing price of 900 kg of HALEU. The DOE will personal the HALEU produced from the demonstration cascade.
“Centrus shall be compensated on a cost-plus-incentive-fee foundation, with an anticipated [Phase 2] contract worth of roughly $90 million, topic to appropriations,” the corporate famous in November. “The contract additionally offers the Division choices to pay for as much as 9 further years of manufacturing from the cascade past the bottom contract; these choices are on the Division’s sole discretion and topic to the provision of Congressional appropriations.”
A Uniquely American Centrifuge Cascade
Centrus’s pioneering cascade makes use of gasoline centrifuge machines, which feed uranium hexafluoride (UF6)—heated to a gaseous state—right into a rotor contained in the centrifuge machine. A rotor spinning at excessive velocity inside a metal casing makes use of centrifugal pressure to pay attention the heavier U-238 isotopes on the outer wall of the rotor and the lighter U-235 isotopes towards the rotor heart. The streams are then fed to the subsequent machines in a “cascade” to realize the specified degree of enrichment. Centrus will use a 4.95% LEU feed materials for its deliberate HALEU 16 AC100M-centrifuge cascade. It suggests roughly 85% of the separative work models (SWU)—a measure of enrichment wanted to provide HALEU—is already contained within the LEU feed materials.
Development of the cascade started in 2019 beneath a three-year, $115 million, cost-shared contract with the DOE. Whereas the DOE modified the contract a number of occasions to extend the overall contract funding to $158.9 million, it later prolonged the interval of efficiency to November 2022. Owing to COVID-related provide chain delays that hampered the supply of HALEU storage cylinders, the DOE in the end elected to maneuver the operational portion of the demonstration to a brand new, competitively awarded contract, which Centrus was awarded in November.
Subsequent Steps with a Greater Milestone Anticipated on the Finish of 2023
Now that development and preliminary testing of the cascade and its supporting techniques are full, Centrus plans to end development of the remaining help techniques, together with a fissile supplies storage space, in order that the HALEU produced for the Division may be saved onsite.
Centrus can also be awaiting “full closing operational readiness opinions” with the NRC, that are required by a license the regulatory physique awarded Centrus for the enrichment facility in June 2021. Centrus already holds an current NRC license to provide gas enriched as much as 10% on the Piketon facility, the place Centrus (then referred to as U.S. Enrichment Corp. earlier than a post-bankruptcy rebrand) efficiently demonstrated its superior U.S. gasoline centrifuge uranium enrichment know-how in 2013 as a part of a three-year DOE mission that resulted in 2016.
Past its operations contract with the DOE, Centrus says it’s “investigating the likelihood to scale up the Piketon facility with further centrifuge cascades for expanded HALEU manufacturing.” That, nonetheless, would require “adequate funding” and securing offtake contracts, the corporate acknowledges.
The chance is profitable, Centrus advised. “A full-scale HALEU cascade, consisting of 120 particular person centrifuge machines, with a mixed capability of roughly 6,000 kilograms of HALEU per yr (6 MTU/yr), could possibly be introduced on-line inside about 42 months of securing the funding to take action,” the corporate famous on Thursday. “Centrus has the potential so as to add an extra cascade each six months after that. Such an growth would mobilize tons of of union staff in Ohio to construct and function the plant and help 1000’s of direct and oblique jobs throughout a producing provide chain that’s one hundred pc home and shall be able to assembly U.S. nationwide safety necessities.”
For now, nonetheless, Centrus is celebrating the milestone of finishing the development of its cascade. “This can be a main milestone for Centrus, for the superior nuclear sector, and for the important effort to revive America’s home uranium enrichment functionality,” famous Centrus Power President and CEO Daniel B. Poneman. “We’re strongly dedicated to pioneering manufacturing of HALEU to help the deployment of U.S. superior reactor designs all over the world. Our objective is to scale up this facility to fulfill the total vary of economic, authorities, and nationwide safety necessities for uranium enrichment, together with Low-Enriched Uranium for current reactors and HALEU for superior reactors.”
—Sonal Patel is a POWER senior affiliate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine).