Source: The Oak Ridger | Rita Baranwal; Guest Column | July 22, 2020
Imagine a car that’s just simply better than the rest.
It’s extremely efficient, comes packed with technology and allows you to go farther than any other vehicle on the road on just a fraction of fuel. It even comes with standard safety features that can prevent accidents before they happen.
Now, instead of a car, imagine a new nuclear reactor — one that is smaller, more affordable and highly flexible.
More than 20 U.S. companies are working on these types of advanced reactor designs that could help us meet our future clean energy needs. Some of them could even be online within the next five years.
The problem is that many of these new reactors will require a fuel that does not commercially exist — essentially keeping our best cars in the garage.
The industry refers to this fuel as high-assay, low-enriched uranium, or HALEU, and these companies can’t innovate without it.
Our current fleet of reactors run on fuel that is enriched up to 5% with uranium-235 — the main fissile isotope that produces energy during a chain reaction.
HALEU is enriched between 5% and 20% and is required by many new reactor designs to get more power per unit of volume. This allows for smaller plant sizes, longer core life, and better fuel utilization.