The U.S. Idaho National Laboratory said it would supply a Californian micro-reactor developer, Oklo, with used uranium fuel to assist with the development of the company’s 1.5MWe fission-based generator.
The California-based company applied for access to the material through a competitive process launched by the national laboratory earlier this year. The goal of the project is to accelerate the development of commercially viable micro-reactors by providing developers with access to the material they need to produce fuel for their projects.
“As the nation’s nuclear energy research laboratory, we are committed to working with private companies and others to develop the technologies that will provide clean energy to the world,” said John Wagner, the associate director for INL’s Nuclear Science & Technology directorate.
The national lab has already granted Oklo permission to use the Idaho site for a demonstration model micro-reactor, which is designed to produce small amounts of power in remote locations where power access is otherwise difficult to provide.
The uranium that will be recovered is to be processed to create “high-assay, low-enriched uranium” which is known by the acronym HALEU. It is to contain “over 5 percent and less than 20 percent uranium-235, the fissile isotope in nuclear fuel that produces energy during a fission chain reaction,” said INL. “All 96 nuclear reactors operating in the U.S. use fuel enriched with less than 5 percent uranium-235.”
Several companies are pursuing the development of micro-reactor models that would each use HALEU, which will require access to the fuel that will allow a reactor to operate for years without having to be refueled, said Wagner. However, there are currently no commercial operations producing HALEU fuel for these projects.
”To address this gap, DOE has established a capability at INL to produce HALeu by processing and treating used fuel from the now-decommissioned Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (the used fuel contains high concentrations of uranium-235 and was being treated and processed for disposal.) With the supply on hand, INL can produce up to 10 metric tons of HALEU fuel for research, development and demonstration projects.”
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