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Gas Centrifuge Deployment
American Centrifuge Operating, LLC (ACO), a wholly owned indirect subsidiary of Centrus Energy Corp. (Centrus), possesses two gas centrifuge enrichment facility licenses from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
One license (SNM-7003), initially issued in 2004, is for the demonstration facility known as the American Centrifuge Lead Cascade Facility (LCF) located on a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reservation in Piketon, Ohio, which, until December 2016, authorized uranium enrichment in up to 240 operating centrifuges in existing buildings leased by ACO from the DOE. The purpose of the LCF, which operated from 2006 to 2016, and was decommissioned in 2018, was to demonstrate centrifuge and cascade operation and obtain performance data. No product was withdrawn from the cascade for commercial purposes. After completing an independent confirmatory survey in August 2018 (ML18260A122), the NRC determined that it had reasonable assurance that ACO had appropriately decommissioned the LCF in accordance with the requirements of 10 CFR Part 20 “Standards for Protection Against Radiation” (ML19228A096). In August 2018, ACO submitted a request to terminate the LCF license (ML18249A298). Subsequently, ACO withdrew its termination request in June 2019 (ML19186A272) and continues to maintain license SNM-2007 and its NRC-approved safety programs for the LCF.
ACO’s second license (SNM-2011), issued in 2007 for a period of 30 years, is for the commercial production facility known as the American Centrifuge Plant (ACP) involving about 11,500 centrifuges. The NRC’s safety and safeguards review for the commercial ACP is documented in NUREG-1851. The commercial ACP would have a capacity of 3.8 million separative work units (SWU) per year, with an upper Uranium-235 (U-235) enrichment limit of 10 weight percent. USEC Inc. submitted the license application for the ACP in August 2004. The NRC licenses SNM-7003 and SNM-2011 were subsequently modified in 2014 to reflect USEC Inc.’s change of name to Centrus.
The LCF lies completely within the commercial ACP site, occupying about 10 percent of the space reserved for the commercial ACP. The commercial ACP site, in turn, lies completely within the southwest quadrant of the DOE's reservation, where an adjoining uranium enrichment facility using a gaseous diffusion process previously operated for several decades. Currently, DOE is decommissioning this facility.
High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium Demonstration
On May 31, 2019, ACO signed a three-year contract with the DOE to deploy a cascade of 16 operating uranium enrichment centrifuges to demonstrate production of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) in the form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) with an enrichment limit of 19.75 weight percent U-235. The site for the HALEU demonstration facility is within the existing structures and areas leased by ACO from DOE in Piketon, Ohio.
The HALEU demonstration program’s primary objectives are:
- Deploy a 16-machine cascade producing 19.75 weight percent U-235 enriched HALEU product; and
- Demonstrate capability to produce HALEU, using existing, U.S.-origin enrichment technology, for use in DOE’s research and development program. The 3-year DOE/ACO contract called for production of between 200 and 600 kilograms of HALEU UF6 before the contract expiration date of May 31, 2022.
Between December 2019 and June 2020, ACO submitted an amendment request to authorize the HALEU demonstration program under its ACP license, SNM-2011 (ML19352G024, ML20125A103, ML20125A108, ML20125A116, ML20125A105, ML20139A100, ML20139A098). The NRC staff reviewed the application and approved the HALEU demonstration program on June 11, 2021 (ML21138A827, ML21148A291, ML21138A828), for the duration of the 3-year DOE/ACO contract.
On April 25, 2022, DOE extended the DOE/ACO contract (ML22123A143, Enclosure 5) through November 30, 2022, adding provisions for an increased cost-sharing arrangement and indemnifying ACO’s decommissioning financial assurance and nuclear liability for the HALEU demonstration program. On April 28, 2022, ACO requested a license amendment to extend the NRC’s authorization of the HALEU demonstration program to reflect the contract extension (ML22123A143). The NRC’s license amendment approval was issued on August 11, 2022 (ML22208A057, ML22216A220, ML2208A060 see enclosure 4).
On March 9, 2022, DOE announced its intention to open bidding on a new HALEU operations program which included the following three phases:
- Phase 1 (~1 year) complete installation of the HALEU cascade and demonstrate an initial production of 20 Kg HALEU UF6
- Phase 2 (1 year) produce 900 Kg HALEU UF6
- Phase 3 (3, 3-year option periods) produce 900 Kg HALEU UF6/year.
On November 10, 2022, DOE awarded a $150 million contract to ACO to produce HALEU at the ACP for the three phases. Under the DOE contract, ACO continued the installation of the 16 operating centrifuge cascade for production of HALEU enriched to 19.75 weight percent U-235. (see Enclosure 2 of ML22353A529
Phase 1 of the DOE/ACO contract will fund HALEU operations through December 2023 on a cost-share basis. HALEU operations under Phase 1 and part of Phase 2, involving the installation of the HALEU cascade and the initial production of HALEU, formerly designated as the HALEU demonstration program, was authorized in Amendment 13 to License SNM-2011, issued on June 11, 2021 (ML21138A827). This amendment authorizes production of 600 kg of HALEU in the form of UF6 at ACO’s Piketon facility. DOE’s Phase 2 would provide full funding of the HALEU operations, if approved by the NRC, through December 31, 2024. DOE’s Phase 3 would need Congressional appropriations and NRC’s approval to move forward. It is noted that the contract phases and terms of the DOE/ACO contract, by which DOE provides funding and indemnification assistance to ACO, described above, are independent of the NRC’s licensing process. DOE’s Phase 2 would provide full funding of the HALEU operations, if approved by the NRC, through December 31, 2024. DOE’s Phase 3 would need Congressional appropriations and NRC’s approval to move forward. It is noted that the contract phases and terms of the DOE/ACO contract, by which DOE provides funding and indemnification assistance to ACO, described above, are independent of the NRC’s licensing process. The NRC conducts independent safety, security and environmental reviews of ACO’s license amendment requests.
On November 30, 2022, ACO submitted an amendment application to further extend the NRC-licensed HALEU operations to the end of 2024 or up to production of the licensed quantity of HALEU UF6, whichever comes first (ML22340A461). On March 30, 2023, the NRC approved the application by issuing Amendment 20 to SNM-2011 (ML23083B962, ML23083B964, ML23083B966).
By letter dated December 12, 2022 (ML22353A490), ACO informed the NRC that it intends to be ready to introduce UF6 to the HALEU cascade on or after May 22, 2023.
On February 13, 2023, ACO submitted an amendment application to complete Phase 2 by increasing its HALEU production to about 1400 kg UF6 by December 31, 2024 (ML23047A046). The NRC accepted the application for detailed review on April 13, 2023 (ML23086A088) and issued a request for additional information (RAI) on June 8, 2023 (ML23146A110). The NRC staff is currently reviewing ACO’s responses to the RAI (ML23187A143). The NRC anticipates completing its review by December 31, 2023.
The NRC conducted its operational readiness and management verification review (ORR) of the HALEU Demonstration Cascade and listed the inspection reports that contained the ORR findings in an Enclosure to a letter dated June 12, 2023 (ML23163A168). The NRC staff verified that the HALEU Demonstration Cascade was constructed and will be operated safely in accordance with the requirements of the license. The NRC authorized enrichment of uranium-235 to the Category III limits defined in 10 CFR 70.4, as special nuclear material of low strategic significance (see the June 12, 2023 letter ML23163A168).
The NRC conducted an ORR on August 15 and 16, 2023, to determine whether to issue ACO’s authorization for enriching uranium at the Category II limits defined in 10 CFR 70.4, as special nuclear material of moderate strategic significance. However, the NRC staff has not issued the related inspection report.
On July 3, 2023, the NRC staff issued Amendment 21 (ML23137A133) to the ACO’s license. Amendment 21 approved: (1) changes to the classified matter security plans for ACO’s facilities in Piketon, Ohio and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and for its headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland; and (2) changes to its special nuclear material physical security plan for the ACP in Piketon. These changes to the classified matter security plans and special nuclear material physical security plan were primarily made due to the applicability of recently promulgated regulations at 32 CFR Part 117 National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM).
On August 15, 2023, the NRC staff issued Amendment 22 (ML23180A140) to the ACO’s license for the ACP, which approved changes to the Information System Security Plan for the classified cyber network at the Technology Manufacturing Center in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
1 The contract (Enclosure 5) is non-public.