The American Nuclear Society (ANS) warned the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that the continued unavailability of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel within the United States is risking “significant deployment delays” of advanced reactors.

In a February 14th letter,  ANS President Steven Nesbit and ANS Executive Director and CEO Craig Piercy urged the DOE to expedite the creation of a HALEU availability program for advanced nuclear developers. The majority of U.S. advanced reactor designs will require HALEU, a fuel that is not yet available at a commercial scale.

“The availability of HALEU is critical to the continued development of advanced nuclear technologies, and actions taken to establish a HALEU supply chain will support the DOE’s efforts to deploy and commercialize clean energy technologies and infrastructure,” said Nesbit and Piercy, on behalf of over 10,000 nuclear technology profesionals represented by ANS.

HALEU is enriched between 5% and 20% in Uranium-235 (U-235) — the main fissile isotope that produces energy during a chain reaction. This higher enrichment amount of U-235 is required for most U.S. advanced reactors to achieve smaller designs. HALEU will also allow developers to optimize their systems for longer life cores, increased efficiencies, and better fuel utilization.

Domestic HALEU production is arguably the most important missing piece for America’s future advanced reactor fleet. Standing up a reliable enrichment capability within the U.S. will protect national security interests and guarantee fuel for the next generation of advanced nuclear power generation.

“Further, the DOE’s substantial investments in the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) are at risk of significant deployment delays without the expeditious development of HALEU infrastructure,” Nesbit and Piercy said.

Established in 2020, the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy’s ARDP seeks to help domestic private industry demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors. The cost-sharing program has three components: advanced reactor demonstrations, risk reduction for future demonstrations, and advanced reactor concepts 2020 (ARC-20).

In October 2020, the DOE selected TerraPower and X-energy as top-tier ARDP award recipients for $160 million in initial cost-sharing demonstration funding to develop and construct two advanced nuclear reactors that can be operational within seven years. In November 2021, President Biden signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which fully funded and appropriated $3.2 billion through 2027 for the top-tier ARDP awards and appropriated an additional $2.4 billion through 2025 for the risk reduction and ARC-20 awards as well.

ANS’s HALEU letter to the DOE continued: “Integration of governmental, regulatory, and industrial efforts across all aspects of HALEU infrastructure development (enrichment, deconversion, and packaging/transportation) will be required to ensure the availability of HALEU and the continued advancement of clean energy technologies.”

“[T]he development of a HALEU availability program should be pursued without delay,” Nesbit and Piercy said.

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.

Established in 1954, ANS is an international professional organization of engineers and scientists devoted to the peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology. Its more than 10,000 members represent government, academia, research laboratories, medical facilities, and private industry. ANS’s mission is to advance, foster, and spur the development and application of nuclear science, engineering, and technology to benefit society.