- DOE Awards $150M HALEU Contract to CENTRUS
- US Announces Nuclear Hydrogen Production for Ukraine Using NuScale SMR
- US Export/Import Bank Offers Financing for Romania’s Cernavoda 3 & 4
- Bulgaria To Speed Up Supply Of Non-Russian Nuclear Fuel
- TerraPraxis Selects Terrestrial Energy for Coal to Nuclear Program
- General Fusion Signs MOU with Canadian National Lab
DOE Awards $150M HALEU Contract to CENTRUS
The Department of Energy (DOE), with a $700M bankroll to help the US advanced reactor industry by being the first buyer of high assay low enriched uranium fuel (HALEU), spent some of its cash this week. DOE announced it inked a $150M deal with American Centrifuge Operating, LLC of Bethesda, Maryland, a subsidiary of Centrus Energy Corp to ramp up production to be able to produce a ton of the fuel (900Kg) every year starting in 2024.
The contract is intended to demonstrate the nation’s ability to produce HALEU fuel. DOE’s action will undoubtedly be accompanied by a short sigh of relief from the CEOs of the nation’s developers of advanced reactors who have been saying for most of this year that looking to where they will get their first fuel loads of HALEU has been their number one ‘keep awake’ issue.
But there is still a long way to go. The Centrus centrifuges will only produce enriched uranium in a gas form, which is uranium hexafluoride (UF6). The nation’s sole uranium conversion plant in Illinois has to be restarted and there are three fuel fabrication plants being built by advanced reactor developers to meet their specific needs and to sell HALEU fuels in other forms to other customers in the US and for export.
First fuel loads are needed by DOE’s funded ARDP reactors later this decade so the race is on to get all the stars to align in time. The fuel fabrication plants have to be built, and licensed by the NRC, and be ready to produce fuel in the next three to four years.
DOE said in its press statement that the cost share contract “will serve as a key step in securing domestic HALEU for advanced reactors.”
HALEU is required by most U.S. advanced reactors to achieve smaller designs, longer operating cycles, and increased efficiencies over current technologies. HALEU is not currently available at commercial scale from domestic suppliers, a situation that could significantly impact the development and deployment of U.S. advanced reactors. Getting the fuel from Russia is not an option nor likely to be one for years to come.
Advancing domestic capability to produce HALEU will set the stage for larger, commercial-scale HALEU production in the U.S.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said, “Reducing our reliance on adversarial nations for HALEU fuel and building up our domestic supply chain will allow the U.S. to grow our advanced reactor fleet and provide Americans with more clean, affordable power.”
“This demonstration shows DOE’s commitment to working with industry partners to kick start HALEU production at commercial scale to create more clean energy jobs and ensure the benefits of nuclear energy are accessible to all Americans.”
DOE projects that more than 40 metric tons of HALEU will be needed before the end of the decade, with additional amounts required each year, to deploy a new fleet of advanced reactors.
ARDP Reactors are Key Drivers of Need for HALEU
Establishing a sustainable commercial HALEU production program is essential to meeting DOE’s long-term objectives. The uranium enrichment cascade demonstration program is intended to address near-term HALEU needs and will be used to support fuel qualification testing and DOE-supported advanced reactor demonstration projects. DOE has two of them on the stove top for this program.
Both advanced reactor designs are funded under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). In return for the billions in cost-shared federal funding, DOE has imposed ambitious deadlines on both firms to have their reactors up and running by the end of this decade. Having HALEU fuel available in time for the first fuel loads is on the critical path and DOE’s milestones cannot be met without it.
The first ARDP reactor is TerraPower’s 345 MW Natrium reactor, which is a sodium- cooled design which has a legacy that links it to the GE-Hitachi PRISM reactor and from there to the Argonne West Integral Fast Reactor. Using the cost-shared DOE money, TerraPower plans to build the first-of-a-kind (FOAK) plant in the remote Wyoming town of Kemmerer, WY.
The new reactors will replace an aging coal fired power plant owned and operated by PacificCorp. TerraPower is sufficiently confident of the success of the first reactor that it has developed a joint plan with PacificCorp to build five more Natrium reactors within the utility’s service area and all of them will replace coal fired power plants.
Add it up and that’s six 345 MW plants, or 2,070 MW of electrical generating power, and all of them will need a lot of HAELU to keep the lights on in three rocky mountain states. DOE’s funding and contract award come not a moment too soon.
The second ARDP project is X-Energy’s Gen-IV inspired 80 MW high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR). The firm plans to use its DOE cost-shared funding the build the first installation of what could be a four-pack in Richland, WA. Like TerraPower, it wouldn’t mind if DOE could please just spend its money as as fast as possible to insure that the HALEU fuel is available.
A challenge for DOE’s HALEU program is that these reactors use very different types of fuel. The Natrium reactor uses high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) metallic fuel. The X-Energy reactor used TRISO fuel.
Beyond the ARDP reactors, in the US there are a half dozen other developers of advanced reactors which will seek access to HALEU fuels. The short list of firms includes; Arc Clean Energy, General Atomics, Kairos Power, Oklo, Terrestrial Energy, and Ultra Safe Nuclear.
No Fueling Around, No Waiting
Neither ARDP reactor vendor is waiting for DOE to spend the rest of its newly appropriated funds ($550M) for HALEU. In October both firms announced independently that they are forging ahead to have their fuel they need fabricated via commercial contracts funded in part by some of their ARDP funding. Both new nuclear fuel facilities will require NRC licenses.
On 10/21/22 Global Nuclear Fuel–Americas (GNF-A), a GE-led joint venture, and TerraPower announced an agreement to build the Natrium Fuel Facility at the site of GNF-A’s existing plant site near Wilmington. The facility represents an investment of more than $200 million. The project will break ground in 2023.
On 10/13/22 TRISO-X LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of X-energy, broke ground and began construction activities on North America’s first commercial-scale advanced nuclear fuel facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The project will represent an investment of approximately $300 million. TF3 is set to be commissioned and operational by 2025.
The nuclear fuel facilities being built by both firms expect that DOE’s funded production of HALEU by the new centrifuges at CENTRUS will result in the required enrichment levels of U235 to meet their needs in the gaseous form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6). This material will go to a conversion plant to be converted from the gaseous state into the type of solid material forms needed to fabricate the uranium metal fuel for TerraPower or the TRISO “pebbles” needed by X-Energy. The fuel fabrication work will be done at each of the respective plants the two firms are committed to build.
CoverDyn’s uranium conversion plant in Illinois is expected to restart in 2023 but this is an “aggressive timeline” according to a statement the firm’s CEO made to World Nuclear News in April 2021. On a more hopeful note, ConverDyn stated in 2020 at a GAIN workshop at the Idaho National Laboratory that it could potentially reinstate a capacity of 15,000 tons of uranium per year should there be a market signal to do so. The plant has a current NRC license to operate which is good until 2060. It also has a license from the NRC to export enriched uranium in various forms.
The two ARDP nuclear fuel plants, when completed, will have the capacity to meet not only the needs of TerraPower and X-Energy but also to supply finished nuclear fuel products to other developers of advanced nuclear reactors. Given the increasing isolation of Russia from global energy markets, these plants likely will position themselves for export sales. They’re not alone in this market.
Ultra Safe Nuclear Fuel Facilities
In August 2022 Ultra Safe Nuclear announced the opening of a new pilot manufacturing plant in Oak Ridge, TN, to produce TRISO fuel and the custom nuclear fuel needed for its reactor design The plant’s fuel fabrication process is licensed from DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In a statement tied the the opening in 2020 of a ceramics and materials plant in Salt Lake City, UT, the firm said materials developed at the new facility will be used in Ultra Safe Nuclear’s Micro-Modular Reactors (MMR) and other nuclear reactors, including gas-cooled reactors, light water reactors, CANDU reactors, and molten salt cooled reactors.
First Year, First Fuel Loads
Meanwhile, back at the CENTRUS ranch, the DOE $150M contract includes a $30 million cost share during the first year to start up and operate 16 advanced centrifuges in a cascade at an enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio.
American Centrifuge Operating will complete the final steps of centrifuge assembly and clear an operational readiness review to start up the demonstration cascade.
They will meet the demonstration requirements by enriching uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas to produce 20 kilograms of 19.75% enriched HALEU by the end of 2023.
They will then continue production in 2024 at an annual production rate of 900 kilograms of HALEU per year, subject to appropriations, with additional options to produce more material under the contract in future years. Annual Congressional appropriations will inform the duration of the contract based on the availability of funding. (BTW: 900 kilograms is just 16 pounds short of a ton of material.)
This latest award builds on DOE’s three-year cascade demonstration program with American Centrifuge Operating, to manufacture and demonstrate the centrifuge enrichment cascade. The cascade was assembled at the Department’s enrichment facility in Piketon, OH, which is currently the only U.S. plant licensed by the NRC to produce HALEU.
DOE is pursuing multiple pathways to produce HALEU through its HALEU Availability Program authorized by the Energy Act of 2020 to meet this pressing need. Following the HALEU demonstration, the centrifuge technology used at the facility will be available for commercial deployment. Learn more about HALEU and DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy.
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US Announces Nuclear Energy for Hydrogen Production in Ukraine Using NuScale SMR
At the COP27 climate conference this week, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Kerry and Ukraine Minister of Energy Galushchenko announced a cooperation agreement to use small modular reactors to produce hydrogen and ammonia via reactor powered electrolysis.
The project aims to carry out a first-of-a-kind pilot of commercial-scale production of clean fuels from SMRs using solid oxide electrolysis. The project seeks to support Ukraine’s energy security goals, enable decarbonization of hard-to-abate energy sectors through clean hydrogen generation, and improve long-term food security through clean ammonia-produced fertilizers. Further, it aims to demonstrate Ukraine’s innovative clean energy leadership through the use of advanced technologies.
Participating partners for the pilot include a multinational consortium from ;
- Argonne National Laboratory,
- Ukraine’s Energoatom, National Security and Defense Council, and State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, and
- Private companies Clark Seed, Doosan Enerbility, FuelCell Energy, IHI Corporation, JGC Corporation, NuScale Power, Samsung C&T, and Starfire Energy.
Coal to SMR Initiatives
In a second announcement, Special Envoy Kerry launched a new initiative, Project Phoenix, to accelerate the transition in Europe of coal-fired plants to SMRs while retaining local jobs through workforce retraining. Project Phoenix will provide direct U.S. support for coal-to-SMR feasibility studies and related activities in support of energy security goals for countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
The United States is committed to supporting the use of innovative clean energy technologies to power global decarbonization efforts and providing options to achieve net zero transition in hard-to-abate energy sectors. This project is part of existing capacity-building cooperation launched under the U.S. Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of SMR Technology (FIRST) program.
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US ExIm Bank Offers Financing for Romania’s Cernavoda 3 & 4
(WNN) The Export-Import Bank (Exim), the USA’s official export credit agency, has issued two Letters of Interest for the financing of US-sourced pre-project technical services at the Cernavoda 3 and 4 nuclear power project in Romania.
Exim President and Chair Reta Jo Lewis, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, and President of Romania Klaus Iohannis, Energy Minister Virgil Popescu, and Geoffrey Pyatt, Assistant Secretary at the State Department, announced two letters of interest.
According to Romanian utility Nuclearelectrica, Exim would be able to consider financing up to $50 million of the US export contract for pre-project engineering services as part of the engineering multiplier program and up to $3 billion of the US export contract for engineering and project management services for the completion of the partially-built Cernavoda units 3 and 4.
Three Part Strategy – Nuclearelectrica said the strategy for completing Cernavoda 3 and 4 is being implemented in three stages.
Stage 1 started at the end of 2021 will last up to 24 months, during which a set of engineering and safety documentation necessary for the project re-start and will be prepared/up-dated, required to substantiate a preliminary investment decision.
Stage 2 of the project consists of preparation of critical engineering for the definition of the project, structuring and contracting financing and agreeing upon an adequate contractual architecture for the implementation of the project, obtaining the construction license, reassessing the feasibility of the project based upon updated technical and economic indicators and making the final investment decision.
Stage 3 of the project consists of site mobilization, start of the construction works, commissioning and start of the commercial operation of unit 3 in 2030 and unit 4 in 2031.
In addition, Nuclearelectrica intends to deploy US-based NuScale’s small modular reactor (SMR) technology for a 462 MW nuclear power plant on the site of a former coal plant.
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Bulgaria To Speed Up Supply Of Non-Russian Nuclear Fuel
(NucNet) Bulgaria’s parliament passed a motion this week to speed up licensing procedures and potential supply of non-Russian nuclear fuel for the country’s Kozloduy nuclear power station, which has two VVER-1000 pressurized water reactors (PWRs) in commercial operation. Sofia is planning for tender ‘within weeks’ and is likely to include invitations to US-based Westinghouse and France’s Framatome.
According to the motion, the first alternative VVER fuel supplies should be made by April 2024 for Kozloduy-5. The new fuel vendor will be required to use technologies and licenses which are not related to Russia. The parliament’s decision obliges the government to complete the licensing process by the end of 2023.
Westinghouse already has VVER-1000 fuel supply deals in the Czech Republic and Ukraine, where operators have decided to work towards cutting their dependency on Russia.
Framatome performs maintenance and modification activities for all types of reactor designs around the world including VVER pressurized water reactor designs. Its latest contract for services at the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant was announced last April.
The two Russia-designed VVER-1000 PWR units at Kozloduy, inherited from the socialist era, provide about one third of the country’s electricity.
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TerraPraxis Selects Terrestrial Energy for Coal to Nuclear Program
Terrestrial Energy, an advanced nuclear technology development company, and TerraPraxis, an organization that innovates, designs, and accelerates scalable, equitable climate solutions, have signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) to cooperate on ‘Repowering Coal.’
Under development by TerraPraxis, ‘Repowering Coal’ is a program to standardize the replacement of coal furnaces at existing coal-fired power plants with high-temperature heat supplied by Generation IV nuclear technology.
The Repowering Coal report, authored by TerraPraxis, was launched at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021. In partnership with Microsoft, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bryden Wood, Schneider Electric and others, Repowering Coal is a program aimed at integrating clean heat sources with existing infrastructure at coal-fired power plants.
TerraPraxis has selected Terrestrial Energy’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) as the first candidate heat source vendor for its Repowering Coal program due to its unique capabilities. These include its high-temperature heat supply required to replace coal-fired boilers
According to the agreement, Terrestrial Energy and TerraPraxis will work on a standardized systems interface between the IMSR and coal-fired power plant systems, which they will apply to candidate sites as part of the program to repower coal projects in North America and elsewhere.
The U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) reported in a September 2022 study that over 300 coal-fired power plants in the United States alone are candidates for the Repowering Coal program. This represents over 260 Gigawatts of electric generation capacity, located at more than 300 sites. DOE estimated that “80% of retired and operating coal power plant sites that were evaluated have the basic characteristics needed to be considered amenable to host an advanced nuclear reactor.”
In September 2022, TerraPraxis and Microsoft entered into an agreement to deliver a digital solution that will catalyze significant decarbonization in areas where global industry has struggled to get results. TerraPraxis will combine its expertise in energy with Microsoft to build and deploy a set of tools to automate the design and regulatory approval needed to decarbonize coal facilities with nuclear power.
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General Fusion Signs MOU with Canadian National Lab
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and General Fusion announced that they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to pursue a series of joint projects to accelerate the deployment of commercial fusion power in Canada. The MOU will act as a framework for both companies to partner to advance fusion energy research and commercialization.
Under the terms of the agreement, CNL and General Fusion will collaborate on projects in key areas, including feasibility studies, regulatory framework, power plant siting and deployment, infrastructure design, and testing and operations support. Overall, the aim is to develop fusion energy research capabilities within CNL, to support the goal of constructing a General Fusion commercial power plant in Canada before 2030.
“General Fusion is a Canadian company based in Vancouver and we are excited to advance this framework to collaborate with CNL, a leader in clean energy technologies,” said Greg Twinney, CEO, General Fusion.
The MOU with General Fusion builds upon previous work that the two organizations conducted under CNL’s Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative (CNRI) last year. Leveraging CNL’s state-of-the-art Tritium Facility, which is capable of handling materials required to conduct full-scale tests of tritium extraction technology, CNL and General Fusion partnered on the development of technologies to extract tritium for use in future fusion power plants.
This is the second MOU General Fusion has inked with Canadian energy-related organizations. In February 2022 General Fusion signed an MOU to support development of fusion energy with Ontario’s Bruce Power and the Nuclear Innovation Institute. The goal is to support deploying a fusion energy electrical generation plant at a site to be determined in a three county region in Ontario.
General Fusion is committed to build a Fusion Demonstration Plant at the Culham, UK, site by 2025 and to have commercial fusion power units operational in the early 2030s.
General Fusion’s MTF technology is fueled by two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, the latter of which can be produced as part of the fusion process within the company technology. General Fusion’s Magnetized Target Fusion technology involves injecting hydrogen plasma into a liquid lithium metal sphere, where it is compressed and heated so that fusion occurs.
The company is building a demonstration plant at the UK Atomic Energy Agency’s Culham Campus in England, which it says will validate the performance and economics of the technology prior to the construction of a pilot commercial power plant.
Sheffield Forgemasters Advances Fusion Energy Project for General Fusion
The critical ring component, for Canada’s General Fusion, will confirm specifications for the next phase of the program, to create a thick-walled fusion vessel designed to withstand the extreme high-temperatures and compressive forces needed to create fusion energy.
The trial ring’s specifications match the 11 rings planned for the fusion demonstration machine. It will allow the engineering team to validate performance of the high-strength steel alloy, finalize the vessel design and confirm the manufacturing process for the fusion reactor.
The final trial ring will weigh 42 metric tons. Sheffield Forgemasters’ engineering team will complete non-destructive testing on the trial ring, which can include visual, ultrasonic, dye-penetrant and magnetic particle inspection, as well as eddy-current testing.
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