The Day – US officials eye fuel shipments for advanced nuclear reactors

BOISE, Idaho – Developing commercial advanced nuclear reactors to help fight global warming and improve national security will require better supplies of the right nuclear fuel, US officials said Tuesday.

The US Department of Energy has encouraged companies that may be interested to participate to submit ideas about its plans to establish a program to ensure the availability of low-enriched high-grade uranium (HALEU).

The information received will be used to prepare a report for Congress. It could also lead the Department of Energy to take the next step and ask companies to come up with more detailed plans for the delivery of the nuclear fuel.

The $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last month includes $ 2.5 billion for the Department of Energy’s two advanced reactor demonstration projects that require the high-grade, low-enriched uranium. The aim is to produce sufficiently low-enriched, high-grade uranium for civil domestic research and commercial use in the next wave of advanced reactors currently under development.

“Advanced reactors are an incredible addition to our collective fight against climate change,” said Dr. Kathryn Huff, deputy assistant secretary for the Department of Energy’s nuclear power bureau, in a statement. “If we do not proactively take the steps now to ensure an adequate and diverse supply of HALEU, reactor demonstration and deployment projects, such as those financed by the cross-party infrastructure law, will not be pushed ahead in good time to slow down the effects.” Of climate change. “

Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the development of new technologies using nuclear power began during the Obama administration and continued under both the Trump and Biden administrations.

The HALEU availability program “will help the US maintain our nuclear supply chain, create high-paying manufacturing jobs and regain US leadership on the international scene,” said Democratic US Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia in a statement .

About 20% of the country’s energy comes from nuclear power, which is produced in almost 100 nuclear power plants. Current reactor fuel uses up to 5% enriched uranium, according to the Department of Energy.

Advanced reactors use between 5% and 20% enriched HALEU, which is required to produce more electricity in modern reactors that are smaller than traditional nuclear power plants.

The 890 square mile East Idaho Department of Energy site, which also includes the Idaho National Laboratory, has been at the forefront of efforts to develop advanced nuclear reactors. The lab has the Advanced Test Reactor, the world’s most powerful test reactor that produces neutrons so new materials and fuels can be tested to see how they react in high-radiation environments.

The site is also home to the Transient Test Reactor, which was reactivated in 2017 after being put on standby in 1994 due to waning interest in nuclear power. The reactor was restarted to test nuclear fuels.

The main obstacles US officials face in modernizing nuclear power are making nuclear power plants economically competitive and changing the public perception of some that nuclear power is unsafe.

Nuclear critics say that both fuel-making facilities and power plants can be prone to accidents and sabotage, and that the nuclear material itself could be used to make bombs.

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