Source: ARC/Centrus | Release | April 29, 2020
Advanced Reactor Concepts, LLC, and Centrus Energy Corp. have signed a letter of intent to cooperate in supporting deployment of U.S. uranium enrichment capacity to produce High Assay, Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) – an advanced nuclear fuel that could power both existing and next-generation nuclear reactors, including ARC’s innovative sodium-cooled fast reactor design, the ARC-100. While the letter is non-binding and non-exclusive, it reflects the parties’ long-term commitment to enter into a purchase agreement that would enable Centrus to supply commercial HALEU that ARC needs to deploy its reactor technology in the late 2020s.
“We are pleased to be working with ARC to find a path forward that will allow Centrus to be ARC’s HALEU supplier and for ARC to be a strong commercial customer for the HALEU production capability we are working to develop,” said Larry Cutlip, Centrus Senior Vice President for Field Operations.
“ARC is excited for the opportunity to work with Centrus as a prospective HALEU supplier. The timing of their production capability would support our requirements in order to meet our 2028 commercialization timeline,” said Robert C. Braun, ARC Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.
A report from the White House Nuclear Fuel Working Group released last week identifies establishing a domestic HALEU production capability as a key priority in restoring America’s competitive advantage in nuclear energy. To that end, since 2019, Centrus has been working under a three-year, $115 million cost shared contract with the U.S. Department of Energy to deploy sixteen of its AC-100M centrifuges to demonstrate production of HALEU with U.S. technology in Ohio. The demonstration program goes through 2022, at which point Centrus expects to have a fully licensed, operable HALEU production capability at a small scale that could be expanded modularly to meet commercial and/or government requirements for HALEU. ARC expects to deploy its reactors starting in late 2028, with the first fuel needed by 2027.
Despite its many advantages as a nuclear fuel, HALEU is not commercially available today, nor are any HALEU-fueled reactors in commercial operation. The lack of available HALEU constrains the deployment of advanced reactors and advanced fuels, and vice-versa. This is the “chicken and egg” dilemma that must be resolved for the United States to establish itself as the global leader in building and fueling the next generation of reactors around the world, which is critical to U.S. influence on nonproliferation. Many of the foreign reactor developers that compete against American companies may not face the same dilemma because they are backed by large, state-owned uranium enrichment enterprises. Centrus and ARC are committed to working together with other stakeholders in industry and government to find a solution to this dilemma.
What is HALEU?
When uranium ore is extracted from the earth, the concentration of the fissile isotope Uranium-235 is less than one percent. Most existing reactors in the United States and worldwide operate on Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) fuel that has been enriched to increase the concentration of the U-235 isotope to slightly less than 5 percent. High Assay, Low Enriched Uranium is further enriched so that the U-235 concentration is between 5 percent and 20 percent. While this is still far below the levels needed to produce weapons or power U.S. Navy vessels, HALEU offers unique advantages as an advanced nuclear fuel for both existing and next generation reactors, including greater power density, improved reactor performance, fewer refueling outages, improved proliferation resistance, and smaller volumes of waste.
What is the ARC-100 Reactor?
The inherent safety features and passive decay heat removal capabilities of the ARC-100 reactor, combined with the improved power density of HALEU, allows for a smaller, simpler, less-capital intensive reactor design. Unlike existing light water reactors, which must be refueled with LEU every 18 to 24 months, the HALEU core of the ARC-100 will allow the reactor to operate at full power for 20 years without refueling.
About Centrus Energy
Centrus Energy is a trusted supplier of nuclear fuel and services for the nuclear power industry. Centrus provides value to its utility customers through the reliability and diversity of its supply sources – helping them meet the growing need for clean, affordable, carbon-free electricity. Since 1998, the Company has provided its utility customers with more than 1,750 reactor years of fuel, which is equivalent to 7 billion tons of coal. With world-class technical and engineering capabilities, Centrus is also advancing the next generation of centrifuge technologies so that America can restore its domestic uranium enrichment capability in the future. Find out more at www.centrusenergy.com.
About Advanced Reactor Concepts LLC (ARC)
Founded in 2006, Advanced Reactor Concepts, LLC. is a privately held company formed with many of the nuclear energy pioneers who played key roles in the Experimental Breeder Reactor -II program (EBR-II). This U.S. Government program operated the EBR-II sodium fast reactor supplying electricity into the grid for 30 years at Idaho Falls, Idaho. The EBR-II experience base serves as the prototype for the ARC-100 nuclear power plant. These ARC engineers are today regarded as leading authorities in small fast reactor technology. ARC’s mission is to commercialize its 100 MWe nuclear power plant and produce safe, economically competitive, carbon-free energy for the global energy market, with a design that can also offer a viable solution to the problem of nuclear waste.