United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Licensing of Fuel Enrichment and Fabrication Facilities

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image of Fuel Cycle with red circles over Fuel Fabricatoin and Enrichment

The standard power reactor fuel design for the past several decades has been uranium dioxide (UO2) pellets with zirconium (Zr)-alloy cladding. For accident tolerant fuel (ATF) that features a different fuel cladding or coatings, little impact is expected on the fabrication of uranium dioxide (UO2) pellets. The process to produce fuel pellets for ATF with different cladding is expected to be generally the same as for conventional Zr-alloy cladded fuel, and the chemical processes to convert uranium hexafluoride (UF6) into UO2 are expected to be largely no different. The use of a different cladding or coating is not expected to significantly impact criticality safety. However, should fuel fabrication facilities decide to change any of the processes associated with the chemical conversion of UF6 to UO2, use a material composition other than UO2 (such as uranium nitride), credit certain features of the cladding in criticality safety analyses, or otherwise make a change that could potentially introduce a new type of accident sequence or process for which the fuel fabrication facility has no prior experience, a license amendment may be required. Fuel fabrication licensees are expected to evaluate changes against 10 CFR 70.72, "Facility Changes and Change Process," to determine whether a license amendment is required.

Currently, fuel enrichment facilities enrich the uranium-235 isotope (U-235) to 3 to 5 weight percent to be processed and fabricated into commercial nuclear fuel. Fuel fabrication facilities that produce enriched uranium for commercial use in nuclear power plants are licensed to an enrichment level of up to 5 weight percent U-235. The nuclear power industry has discussed increasing the enrichment of ATF from the conventional ~5 weight percent U-235 up to 10 weight percent to facilitate longer intervals between refueling operations. This change, alone, is not expected to impact fabrication activities as it, too, may not require any changes in chemical conversion processes; however, modifications to criticality safety controls (and potentially other types of controls), including physical modifications to equipment, will likely be required. Enrichment and fuel fabrication licensees are expected to evaluate changes against 10 CFR 70.72, "Facility Changes and Change Process," to determine whether a license amendment is required for such changes.

Enrichment facilities that wish to enrich fuel up to 10 weight percent U-235, but whose current possession limits do not allow the possession and/or production of material enriched up to 10 weight percent U-235, will need a license amendment. Fuel fabrication licensees that wish to fabricate ATF in enrichments up to 10 weight percent U-235, but whose current possession limits do not allow the possession and/or use of material enriched up to 10 weight percent U-235, will need a license amendment. Additionally, modifications to criticality safety controls (and potentially other types of controls), including physical modifications to equipment, will likely be required. Enrichment and fuel fabrication licensees are expected to evaluate changes against 10 CFR 70.72, "Facility Changes and Change Process," to determine whether a license amendment is required for such changes.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, July 23, 2020