Note: This story was updated at 3:15 p.m.
A contract between two companies that have operations or employees in Oak Ridge will support continued work on the production of fuel for advanced nuclear reactors, possibly within six years or so.
The two companies, Centrus Energy Corp. and X Energy LLC, announced the services contract in a press release on Wednesday.
The companies had announced in September that they were exploring a collaboration for the possible production of fuel for advanced nuclear reactors, and they had signed a memorandum of understanding for the potential collaboration.
They said then that they were working toward the development of a fuel fabrication facility that could possibly be in Oak Ridge, where Centrus, formerly known as USEC, has had operations for about 15 years. Oak Ridge could be a nexus for the advanced reactor industry in the United States, one official said at the time. It’s not clear yet how large the fuel fabrication facility would be or what the total investment might be.
In the Wednesday press release, the two companies said the services contract announced this month builds upon the September memorandum of understanding.
“This contract is the initial implementation of that agreement,” said Jeremy Derryberry, Centrus senior communications manager. “Our team in Oak Ridge will be working with X-energy on this project.”
Under the agreement announced Wednesday, Centrus will provide X-energy, a pioneering reactor technology and fuel company, with technical expertise and resources that will support the conceptual design of a facility that could produce a type of fuel known as X-energy’s uranium oxycarbide (UCO) tristructural isotropic (TRISO) fuel forms. The TRISO fuel forms could be used in the X-energy X3-100 high-temperature gas-cooled reactor and other advanced nuclear reactor technologies being developed around the world, the companies said.
An advanced reactor would be much smaller than a typical reactor. It would produce power in the range of 100 to 200 megawatts, and its primary components would be built in a factory and shipped to a reactor site. It would take less time to build and deploy an advanced reactor, compared to a typical reactor now, and there would be a large reduction in carrying costs, the costs accumulated before a reactor starts generating power.
A typical reactor now is about 1,000 megawatts, and it is built on site.
Centrus Energy has its American Centrifuge Technology Manufacturing Center in south Oak Ridge, at the former Boeing plant, and a test facility at Building K-1600 at the East Tennessee Technology Park, the former K-25 site. As of September, enrichment operations were at K-1600.
At that time, X Energy said it has employees at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in order to develop expertise in TRISO fuel for the gas-cooled Xe-100 advanced modular reactor.
The services contract announced Wednesday said the Centrus support work includes includes nuclear criticality safety analysis, manufacturing equipment layout and infrastructure design, and the conceptual development of fuel form transport packages.
Centrus will also provide facility space to X-energy at Centrus’ Technology and Manufacturing Center in Oak Ridge.
The contract supports the previously announced joint effort by the two companies to prepare a deployment plan for X-energy’s TRISO fuel technology; design a cost-effective, highly automated fuel manufacturing process line; and seek funding for a future commercial fuel production facility, the press release said. The companies entered into an additional memorandum of understanding on March 26 that defines each party’s relative contributions that would be considered if a joint entity is formed to perform these activities, the press release said.
“Establishment of a U.S. domestic capability to produce qualified, high assay low enriched uranium-based fuel forms has become urgent,” said Harlan Bowers, X-energy president. “Advanced reactor companies must have a reliable fuel source within the next six years to enable first-of-a-kind deployment by the mid-to-late 2020s. Through partnership with Centrus, we intend to have our TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility constructed and producing fuel before 2025.”
“Our work with X-energy will build the foundation for deploying an American fuel source for advanced reactors,” said Daniel Poneman, president and chief executive officer of Centrus. “By performing their fuel work in our Oak Ridge Technology and Manufacturing Center, X-energy will be able to leverage our specialized workforce, equipment, and facilities to enhance their competitive advantage in the rapidly evolving advanced reactor market.”
Poneman is a former deputy energy secretary who served under President Barack Obama.
Oak Ridge Today has previously reported that Centrus and X-energy would have to complete licensing and criticality safety evaluations for their fuel fabrication facility. Adverse risks would not affect local risks, executives said. The fuel has been reported to be inherently safe because it is encased in graphite.
Executives have said the fuel industry could potentially be a multi-billion-dollar industry.
“X-energy is focused on both our high temperature gas-cooled reactor development and the fuel needed to power our reactors,” Kam Ghaffarian, X-energy chief executive officer, said in a press release in September. “The Department of Energy has spent close to $400 million in developing and qualifying the UCO TRISO particle in preparation for advanced reactor commercialization. X-energy, in partnership with Centrus and taking advantage of its domestic enrichment experience and engineering know-how, is anxious to evaluate how we can together move UCO TRISO into final fuel form production, benefitting many in the industry.”
There isn’t currently a modular reactor licensed or certified by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and it could be the mid-2020s before one starts operating. Besides helping with the multi-step fuel fabrication process, Centrus Energy was also expected, as of September, to help X-energy with the NRC licensing process. A potential reactor site hasn’t been selected yet.
“X-energy’s innovative reactor design is a potential game-changer for America’s nuclear industry,” Poneman said then. “Our technical and engineering teams are eager to help X-energy develop TRISO fuel for their reactor. We agree that American leadership in the global nuclear market requires that we develop an end-to-end domestic capability, from high-assay low-enriched uranium enrichment through fuel production, for next-generation reactors.”
Oak Ridge has a history in the nuclear industry, including the nuclear fuel cycle.
Like X Energy, Centrus has also worked with ORNL before. The company has had a contract with UT-Battelle LLC, which manages ORNL for the U.S. Department of Energy, for engineering and testing work on the American Centrifuge project.
Separately but related to small modular reactors, the Tennessee Valley Authority is studying the possibility of building them at the Clinch River Site in west Oak Ridge.
Like X-energy, a company called NuScale Power is also working on a modular reactor.
Here is more information about X-energy and Centrus Energy from press releases and company information:
X-energy is an advanced nuclear reactor design and TRISO-based fuel fabrication company. X-energy is developing an innovative nuclear power plant design solution. The Xe-100 is a 200MWt (76MWe) high temperature gas-cooled pebble bed modular reactor that requires less time to construct, uses factory-produced components, cannot melt down, and is “walk-away” safe without operator intervention.
In concert with Xe-100 design, X-energy is actively producing TRISO-based fuel forms and will implement pilot scale manufacturing capacities starting in 2018. Reactor and fuel activities are supported by $34 million in private investment and a five-year $53 million U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Reactor Concept Cooperative Agreement award.
X-energy was founded in 2009 by Ghaffarian. It has headquarters in Greenbelt, Maryland.
About Centrus Energy
Centrus Energy is a supplier of enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power plants in the United States and around the world. With world-class technical and engineering capabilities, Centrus is advancing the next generation of centrifuge technologies so that America can restore its domestic uranium enrichment capability in the future, the company said.
Since 1998, the company has provided utility customers with more than 1,750 reactor years of fuel, which is equivalent to seven billion tons of coal. Centrus said it provide value to utility customers through reliable and diverse supply sources—helping them meet the growing need for clean, affordable, carbon-free electricity.
Centrus is based in Bethesda, Maryland.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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