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The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved GE Vernova's nuclear fuel business to manufacture, ship and analyse the performance of nuclear fuel with uranium-235 enrichments of up to 8%.

GNF's plant is now authorised to manufacture fuel with 8% enrichment (Image: GE Vernova)

The NRC's licence amendment approval means that Global Nuclear Fuel's plant in Wilmington, North Carolina, is the first commercial facility in the USA licensed to fabricate fuel enrichments containing up to 8% by weight uranium-235 (U-235).

The regulator has issued a Certificate of Compliance allowing GNF to ship nuclear fuel bundles containing uranium enriched up to 8% using the company's RAJ-II shipping container. It has also approved licensing topical reports for advanced nuclear methods that enable GNF to analyse fuel with enrichments greater than 5% by weight.

U-235 is the main fissile isotope of uranium. Natural uranium contains about 0.7% U-235. Standard fuel used in today's operating light water reactors contains uranium enriched at various levels up to about 4.8% U-235, known as low-enriched uranium. But fuel containing slightly higher levels of enrichment - up to 10% U-235 - can potentially offer improved nuclear fuel cycle economics for currently operating reactors. Such fuel is sometimes referred to as higher-enriched fuel or LEU+.

Uranium fuel containing between 5% and 20% U-235 is known as high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel, or HALEU. Such fuels will be required to fuel many of the advanced reactors and small modular reactors that are now being developed.

"These regulatory milestones build on our long history of designing and fabricating fuel for the nuclear industry," Mike Chilton, GNF executive vice president, said. "We will continue to innovate to help our customers run their plants even more efficiently and be ready to support the next generation of reactor technology with reliable, flexible fuel products as the industry progresses to the use of higher enrichments."

These approvals were made possible in part by work GNF and GE Vernova's Advanced Research business have conducted for the US Department of Energy's Accident Tolerant Fuel (ATF) Program, the company said. Framatome, GE/GNF and Westinghouse have all been developing ATF concepts with DOE support. The NRC last year issued the first authorisation for US commercial reactor to use fuel with over 5% enrichment, allowing Southern Nuclear to use advanced nuclear fuel enriched up to 6% U-235 at Vogtle unit 2.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Friday, 16 February 2024
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