Centrus Aims for HALEU Production by 2022

  • Haleu Fuel / US Production Could Begin ‘By Next Year’
  • Lightbridge Sets Priorities for SMR Fuel Development
  • Olkiluoto-3 / Finland’s Regulator Issues Fuel Loading Permit For EPR Unit
  • Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency Spikes TEPCO Plans to Restart 7-Unit Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Plant
  • TVA CEO Reverses Course Saying the Giant Utility Will Need SMRs in the Future
  • DOD Awards Contracts for Advanced Microreactors
  • NEI CEO Maria Korsnick – Swift Action Needed on Nuclear Energy

Haleu Fuel / US Production Could Begin ‘By Next Year’

mug of uranium(NucNet) (Centrus) Construction of the first facility in the US for the production of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (Haleu) (DOE Infographic) fuel is on track with the first fuel expected to be produced by next year according to a forward looking statement by Centrus Energy Corp.. (NYSE:LEU).

The firm’s stock closed on Friday 03/26/21 at $24.30 against a 12 month high of $30.97.  This time last year the stock was $5.20/share.

Design and engineering work on the non-centrifuge or “balance of plant” systems is near completion and system construction is well under way. Auxiliary and support systems necessary for operation of the cascade are being installed.

Under a 2019 contract with the US Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, Centrus is licensing and constructing a cascade of 16 AC100M centrifuges, which is a US technology, to demonstrate production of Haleu.

DOE said the objective is to demonstrate a domestic technology that could be used in any type of advanced reactors, including defense reactors. The three year, $115m, cost-shared contract runs until mid-2022.

Centrus submitted a license amendment request (LAR) to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) last year to modify its commercial license to authorize it to enrich uranium up to 20 percent U-235. The NRC has accepted the LAR for technical review and that review is under way.

The facility has an existing NRC license for production up to 10 percent and, if this amendment is approved, will become the first U.S. facility licensed for the full range of LEU and HALEU production up to 20 percent U-235. On June 27, 2019 Centrus formally withdrew the request to terminate the American Centrifuge Lead Cascade Facility (Lead Cascade) NRC Materials License in order to design and construct the HALEU cascade under NRC oversite. ML20136A471

This month, Centrus completed assembly of all AC100M gas centrifuges. The centrifuges will undergo final preparations prior to being installed into the production cascade.

To support the construction effort, Centrus has reactivated its domestic supply chain for centrifuge components and supporting equipment needed for the demonstration, and restored its capacity to manufacture centrifuge parts in its Oak Ridge, Tennessee, manufacturing facility.

Centrus president and chief executive officer Daniel Poneman said the facility, in Piketon, Ohio, is on schedule “despite the impact of the [Covid-19] 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.”

He said the first-of-a-kind facility can play a critical role in meeting both government and commercial requirements for Haleu, powering the country’s nuclear leadership as the world turns to a new generation of advanced reactors and advanced nuclear fuels.

Haleu is an advanced nuclear fuel material that is not commercially available in the US today. It is likely to be required in the future to fuel both existing and next generation reactors. According to Centrus, many of the designs selected by the DOE for its advanced reactor demonstration program are expected to operate on Haleu.

Haleu, which is enriched so that the concentration of the U-235 isotope is higher than the 4-5% level typically used in existing reactors but lower than 20%, offers numerous advantages in reactor performance and a lower volume of waste produced.

Lightbridge Sets Priorities for SMR Fuel Development

lb logoLightbridge Corporation (NASDAQ:LBTR) has decided to prioritize developing fuel for future small modular reactors rather than fuel for large reactor designs, President and CEO Seth Grae said this week in a business update ahead of a webcast and conference call to discuss the company’s financial results. The stock closed on 03/26/21 at $6.10/share. This time last year the price was $6.99/share.

Seth Grae, Lightbridge CEO, said the firm is giving priority to its fuel development program with a focus on powering small modular reactors (SMRs). SMRs are expected to have much lower capital costs per module than larger reactor designs, making their deployment easier to finance and support by private and government sectors.

In addition, Grae said the firm expects SMRs using Lightbridge Fuel will have the ability to load follow renewables, helping to expand markets for renewables and SMRs together as countries seek to decarbonize energy generation.

“We believe that Lightbridge Fuel’s most significant economic benefit to SMRs will be to provide a 30% power uprate that will allow SMRs greater flexibility in power levels,” Grae said.

“We want to position Lightbridge as an essential company for the world to meet its climate goals. While existing large reactors can present an additional market opportunity for Lightbridge Fuel, we do not expect significant future growth in the number of these large reactors/ They will not move the needle on climate change.”

“Lightbridge is going where the industry is heading, along with the significant government funding opportunities we expect to go toward SMRs in the coming years, and we remain focused on our pursuit of full-scale commercialization of Lightbridge Fuel as quickly as possible.”

Recently, the firm announced a settlement agreement with Framatome terminating their Enfission joint venture, which will allow Lightbridge to pursue “various promising opportunities” unencumbered by any constraints on the Lightbridge Fuel technology platform.

Olkiluoto-3 / Finland’s Regulator Issues Fuel Loading Permit For EPR Unit

(NucNet) (Framatome) Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (Stuk) this week issued a fuel loading permit for the Olkiluoto-3 nuclear power plant with the 1,600 MWe Generation III EPR unit scheduled to start up in October and to begin commercial operation in February 2022.

Areva EPR

Stuk said it had verified plant operator Teollisuuden Voima Oyj’s (TVO) readiness to begin the fuel loading. TVO’s Olkiuoto-3 project director, Jouni Silvennoinen said the permit was the most significant step in the commissioning of the plant unit so far. He said systems have now been rigorously tested and “we will be able to begin fuel loading soon”.

The fuel arrived in Olkiluoto in 2018. During the fuel loading, 241 fuel assemblies, comprising about 128 tonnes of uranium, will be transferred from storage into the reactor’s pressure vessel.

The assemblies have all been manufactured in Framatome’s plants in Germany and in France. Framatome said that to carry out the loading operations, a team made up of approximately 40 employees from TVO, Areva and Framatome is leading the effort. It includes 15 fuel handlers, employees specializing in the fuel handling operations, and four neutronics engineers in charge of monitoring the core during loading.

Completion of the fuel loading will be followed by a new series of hot functional tests before the first criticality and commissioning for commercial operation.

Once the reactor is in service, Framatome teams will contribute to the maintenance of the Olkiluoto-3 reactor under a long-term service contract signed between Framatome and TVO in late 2019. They will be supported by the new subsidiary, Framatome Finland, created in 2019.

The cost of Olkiluoto-3 was initially put at €3.2B, but in 2012 Areva estimated the overall cost at closer to €8.5B. Since then, it has not made public any updated cost projection. The plant is 10 years behind schedule.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency Spikes TEPCO Plans to Restart 7-Unit Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Plant

(Japan Times) Japan’s nuclear regulatory body decided last week to effectively halt all plans by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (Tepco) to restart a seven unit (BWRs) nuclear plant on the Sea of Japan coast after the complex was found to have serious safety flaws.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority decided at its meeting to suspend efforts by Tepco transport nuclear fuel to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture or to load it into the reactors.  (Image: TEPCO)


The punitive measure will be effective until Tepco’s response to the incident is “in a situation where self-sustained improvement is expected,” according to the regulator.

It will be the second administrative order to be issued for a violation of rules under the law to regulate nuclear reactors. The first was imposed in 2013 on the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant was found to have been vulnerable to unauthorized entry at 15 locations in March last year when both its primary intruder detection system and the backup system were found to be defective.  Some of the violations included employees swapping badges for access to controlled areas of the plant.

The regulator provisionally rated the breach at the plant to have been at the worst level in terms in safety and severity, marking the first time it has given such an assessment. The NRA has been aggressive in its insistence that Japan’s nuclear utilities secure their plants against terrorist intrusions.

Facing huge compensation payments and other costs stemming from the 2011 crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant it also operates, Tepco had been seeking to resume operations at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant to reduce its dependence on costly fossil fuel imports for nonnuclear thermal power generation.

The No. 7 reactor of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant has passed the NRA’s safety screening in order to restart. Tepco will have to suspend its preparations for reactivating the reactor because the NRA order will prohibit the company from loading nuclear fuel into the reactor.

The NRA is expected to take at least one year to confirm improvements to security measures at the plant. It is uncertain when Tepco will be able to restart the reactor.

TVA CEO Reverses Course Saying the Giant Utility Will Need SMRs in the Future

tva-logoThe Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), after nearly a decade of closing its coal fired plants, and replacing them with natural gas generation,  may be returning, at least in part, to its nuclear roots. It was once the nation’s most ambitious developer of nuclear power of any U.S. utility, but it hasn’t started building a new nuclear reactor in nearly a half century.

This week TVA President Jeff Lyash told a Senate panel studying the future of nuclear power that he hopes TVA will bring online new small modular reactors in Oak Ridge within the decade even as the federal utility extends the life of its existing fleet of seven reactors. (Full text of Lyash testimony)

“Our schedule is to have a small modular reactor (SMR) perhaps in service at Clinch River (in Oak Ridge) by 2032,” Lyash told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“Our Clinch River site is the only site in the nation with an NRC-approved early site permit for small modular reactors. This effectively eliminates a number of risks that have stopped or delayed many nuclear projects previously.”  The permit is good for 20 years so TVA has plenty of time to make up its mind whether it sees a positive path forward for SMRs both financially and technically.

TVA is pursuing plans to build several SMRs on the 935-acre now abandoned Clinch River Breeder Reactor site in Anderson County, TV. However, the TVA board has yet to authorize the building of more nuclear reactors.

In its early site permit from the NRC, TVA has referenced several SMR types of designs, but it has not expressed a preference for any of them.  The permit authorizes power production of up to 800 MWe which most likely would come from multiple units of the same design.

Legacy of Bellefonte and Watts Bar Costs Haunt TVA

TVA is also embroiled in a complex court dispute with a Tennessee real estate developer who purchased the partially built Bellefonte nuclear plant and who wants to complete it. The developer., Franklin Haney, has pitched the city of Memphis, TN, one of TVA’s biggest customers, to go with his project if it is completed. TVA had at one time considered completing the planned twin 1200 MWe plant, but abandoned it after cost overruns incurred in the completion in 2016 of the Watts Bar plant pushed the utility closer to its debt ceiling.

To complete the final phase of building Watts Bar Unit 2, TVA spent $4.7 billion, or nearly twice the projected $2.5 billion cost estimate made when the project was restarted. Only seven of the 18 nuclear reactors originally planned by TVA were ever completed. Even so TVA remains America’s third-biggest nuclear utility and in 2019-2020 generated 42% of its power from nuclear power.

TVA-plants-map529pxLyash said nuclear power is TVA’s second cheapest source of electricity over the long run, behind only the hydroelectric power TVA gets from its 29 power-generating dams. Nuclear plants are typically the most expensive to build, but Lyash said with proper maintenance and upgrades, he believes TVA’s nuclear plants should be able to run for 100 years.

DOD Awards Contracts for Advanced Microreactors

The US Department of Defense (DOD) said on March 22nd that it exercised contract options for two teams, one led by BWXT Advanced Technologies and the other by X-energy, to proceed with development of a final design for a transportable advanced nuclear microreactor prototype. The two teams were selected from a preliminary design competition, and will each continue development independently under a Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) initiative called Project Pele.

After a final design review in early 2022 and completion of environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act, one of the two companies may be selected to build and demonstrate a prototype.

“We are thrilled with the progress our industrial partners have made on their designs,” said Dr Jeff Waksman, Project Pele program manager.

“We are confident that by early 2022 we will have two engineering designs matured to a sufficient state that we will be able to determine suitability for possible construction and testing.”

DOD noted that a safe, small, transportable nuclear reactor would address a growing demand for electricity “with a resilient, carbon-free energy source that does not add to the DOD’s fuel needs, while supporting mission-critical operations in remote and austere environments.”

Project Pele is a fourth-generation nuclear reactor, which, once prototyped, could serve as a pathfinder for commercial adoption of such technologies, thereby reducing US carbon emissions and providing new tools for disaster relief and critical infrastructure support.

The prototype reactor will be designed to deliver between 1 MWe and 5MWe for at least three years of operation at full power. To enable rapid transport and use, it will be designed to operate within three days of delivery and to be safely removed in as few as seven days.

project pele

“Production of a full-scale fourth-generation nuclear reactor will have significant geopolitical implications for the United States,” said Jay Dryer, SCO director. “The DOD has led American innovation many times in the past, and with Project Pele, has the opportunity to help us advance on both energy resiliency and carbon emission reductions.”

Project Pele is a whole-of-government effort, with critical expertise provided by the US Army, the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

BWXT said in a press statement that it received $28M for the 2nd round of the project. In the first round it received $14M.  X-Energy also received $14M for the 1st round and is eligible to receive up to $30M in this 2nd round. As of 03/27/21 the firm had issued a press statement about the contract award.  Westinghouse, which was a third competitor in the first round, offering its advanced eVinci microreactor, was not selected by DOD for funding in the 2nd round.

DOD will award a contract to one of the two firms for a third “demonstration” phase to build a prototype unit once it evaluates the results of this round of funding.

NEI CEO Maria Korsnick – Swift Action Needed on Nuclear Energy

nei speech(NEI) (WNN) (Video of the speech) Nuclear energy is the key to making climate commitments work and will play a critical role in meeting the Biden Administration’s ambitious climate goals, Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) President and CEO Maria Korsnick said this week at the organization’s annual State of the Nuclear Energy Industry event.

“There is no bigger opportunity in front of us than rebuilding the world’s energy system around carbon-free sources,” Korsnick said, adding that there is “no more debate about the need for swift action”.

Over the last year, utilities, state governments, and the new Administration have made “concrete commitments” to bring carbon emissions from electricity generation close to zero by 2035 – even sooner than the 2050 target already acknowledged to be necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

“While we need to scale up every carbon-free source available, no other source can match nuclear energy’s unique combination of attributes,” she said.

The value of nuclear energy’s reliability has become even more apparent over the past year, with US nuclear power plants working on through “unprecedented” conditions like the COVID-19 pandemic and devastating winter storms across the southern USA, she said. ”

Nuclear has become the second-largest source of electricity in the USA overall and surpassed coal for the first time ever”

Nuclear Energy is a Game Changer

“Governments, NGOs, and the private sector all agree: ambitious climate plans only work with nuclear energy. The only question is whether we’re serious about making them work,” she said.

“To meet the challenge before us, we need to move the next generation of nuclear rapidly from design, to demonstration, to build. Across the country, talented innovators are making that happen. Spurred on by commitments from utilities, private investment, and government support, the next generation of nuclear is poised to come online.

“Technologies such as small modular reactors, micro-reactors, and other advanced designs will make nuclear even more efficient, even more affordable and even more versatile. These reactors will come in different sizes and designs. They will be able to change their output, pairing perfectly with more variable sources such as wind and solar.”

Awards made last year under the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program mean that US companies “are able to actually build” advanced reactors, she said. “These are exciting steps towards getting the next generation of nuclear online before the end of the decade.

“Right now, TerraPower and X-Energy are finalizing contracts with DOE for these kinds of demonstrations. Kairos Power and Southern Company Services are finalizing contracts with DOE on risk-reduction projects. General Atomics, MIT, and Advanced Reactor Concepts are all delivering their own conceptual designs.

Elsewhere in the federal government, the Defense Department is moving forward with its own micro-reactor demonstration program to improve national security and address some of the largest threats to our armed forces.”

“The move to demonstration is significant. These new technologies will be cost-competitive, especially with carbon-emitting sources. The next generation of nuclear can not only make a decarbonized energy system work – it can make it affordable,” she said. To form the core of a clean energy system such technologies must be commercialized successfully, she added.

Reactors Under Threat of Closure

She added: “Our climate plans can’t work if we go backwards by shuttering our nuclear plants. But that is exactly the possibility we face. This year, four reactors are under threat of closure in Illinois alone. In that state, they produce twice as much clean electricity as wind and solar combined,” she said. “If they shut down, carbon-emitting sources will likely fill the gap. In 2020, our lost generation from coal was replaced almost entirely with natural gas.”

Korsnick urges state-level action to prevent future nuclear shut-downs and put nuclear on an “even playing field” with other carbon-free sources. Washington and Virginia have already passed clean energy standards, she noted, while Illinois and Minnesota, where clean energy debate, interrupted by the pandemic, have now resumed. She also highlighted state-level actions, such as tax incentives in Nebraska, a small modular reactor study in Montana and funding for SMR manufacturing in Washington.

“We’re seeing movement because these states are realizing an obvious truth: We can’t talk about the urgency of decarbonizing while sacrificing our most reliable source of carbon-free electricity. We can’t celebrate bold plans while conceding defeat against the climate crisis.”

“Either we’re serious about building a better energy future, or we aren’t. Action on nuclear energy will show our true priorities. Nuclear energy is the power source that can make it all work. It can turn some of the biggest threats we face into opportunities.”

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