Britain Announces Facility to Produce HALEU Fuel for Nuclear Reactors

British officials said the UK government will invest about £200 million (more than $251 million) for a project to build Europe’s first production facility for high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU). Officials have said the fuel will be needed to supply the coming generation of nuclear power, including advanced nuclear reactors.

Britain has said it wants to increase its nuclear power generation capacity to 24 GW by mid-century. Officials have said that would support about 25% of the country’s projected electricity demand. Nuclear power today supplies about 14% of the UK’s energy mix.

HALEU is defined as uranium enriched to greater than 5% and less than 20% of the U-235 isotope.

Facility Sited in Cheshire

The May 8 announcement said the British government is awarding uranium enrichment firm Urenco £196 million ($245 million) to build the facility in Cheshire in the northwest of England. Officials said the plant would need about 400 workers and would be ready for commercial fuel production by 2031. The HALEU could be used at UK nuclear plants and also could be exported, according to the Dept. for Energy Security and Net Zero.

Andrew Bowie, the UK’s energy minister for nuclear power and renewable energy, told Reuters, “As we see more advanced modular reactors coming onstream, HALEU will be the fuel that will be required so having more of that technology in the UK will mean we are able to supply them from a domestic source.”

Centrus Energy’s original AC100 machine was developed with support from the U.S. Department of Energy and later refined by Centrus to the current AC100M machine under contract with Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Centrus Energy is demonstrating 16 of its centrifuges at its enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio. The machines are being used to enrich uranium hexafluoride gas to produce HALEU. Courtesy: Centrus

Export Opportunities

Bowie said, “There are obviously opportunities to export this fuel to our allies who themselves want to wean themselves away from an overreliance on Russia for their nuclear fuel.” Notably, the leading company currently providing shipments of HALEU is TENEX, which is part of Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy group.

Centrus Energy has been producing small amounts of HALEU since late last year at the American Centrifuge Plant, located on the Dept. of Energy’s (DOE’s) Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant site in Piketon, Ohio. Centrus is working with the DOE and Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop and demonstrate a highly-efficient uranium enrichment gas centrifuge technology.

Orano, a nuclear energy company headquartered in Châtillon, Hauts-de-Seine, France, also has said it would like to build a manufacturing facility in the U.S. Orano has its U.S. headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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