Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) on Tuesday again tried to put New Mexico in line for a piece of the high-assay low-enriched uranium market the Department of Energy is trying to spark with a promised sole-source contract award to Centrus Corp.
The DOE Office of Nuclear Energy in January announced it planned to award Bethedsa, Md.-based Centrus a sole-source contract worth up to $115 million to revive a uranium enrichment centrifuge design based on the company’s AC-100 technology: the same design the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is eyeing as a potential future source of highly enriched uranium.
Heinrich has previously groused that DOE did not consider Urenco Group’s Eunice, N.M., facility as a potential source of the 19.75-percent enriched uranium fuel product known as high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), which the new Centrus plant would produce in unspecified quantity.
In a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (NRC), Heinrich asked a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioner whether Urenco USA “should be considered as a potential near-term options to provide HALEU for future advanced reactors?”
“Yeah, [for[ the commercial market, certainly that Urenco facility would be appropriate,” responded Jeffrey Merrifield, adding that the facility would not be suitable for future production of defense-usable highly enriched uranium.
The Energy Department did not reply to a request for comment Tuesday about whether it had yet awarded Centrus the sole-source contract. The award was to have a two-year base period with a one-year option.
The planned Centrus HALEU cascade of 16 machines would be built at DOE’s Portsmouth Site in Piketon, Ohio: the Cold War-era uranium enrichment plant that until recently hosted Centrus now-decommissioned American Centrifuge Plant.
American Centrifuge was an ACP-100-style demonstration that contained some non-U.S. parts and so was unsuitable for large-scale refining of defense-usable uranium.