“Next Generation” Nuclear Plants depend on..Russia

September 6, 2022

I started banging this drum a while back, looks like other media gradually picking up on it.
The new generation of “Small Modular Nuclear Reactors” depend on something called HALEU, or High Assay Low Enrichment Uranium, a specialized product produced currently only in Russia.

The Inflation Reduction Act, President Biden’s signature climate initiative, provides 700 million dollars to jumpstart production of this critical fuel in the US.
There are challenges, of course.

9 Responses to ““Next Generation” Nuclear Plants depend on..Russia”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Per this June 2021 article, Centrus in Ohio was supposed to start producing HALEU by now in a demonstration project:
    https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/centrus-becomes-first-us-licensed-haleu-production-facility

    “The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is currently supporting a three-year, $170 million dollar cost-shared ademonstration project with Centrus. The company has already built 16 advanced centrifuge machines for uranium enrichment and expects to begin HALEU production by early next year.”

    Could not find any confirmation of actual production occurring in 2022.

  2. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Would imagine the USA is well practised in enriching uranium beyond 5%. Or are all the nuke bombs Plutonium?

    • John Oneill Says:

      I don’t think they’ve made any bomb-grade U235 or Pu239 since the end of the cold war – they had a huge surplus, as did Russia. The weapons grade plutonium could be downblended and used in fast reactors, but the US has decided that’s too hard. They proposed to dilute and bury it instead; the Russians, who are planning to denature and use their plutonium stockpile, rejected that option.

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        Any idea why the Plutonium is not being used for MOX fuel which I understand is common?

        • John Oneill Says:

          There was a plan to build a MOX plant in South Carolina but it went way over budget and was cancelled. It would have converted about 3.5 tons a year – stock of weapons grade Pu239 is about 50 tons, with another ten tons below weapons grade. Putting weapons grade in any kind of a reactor for more than a few months renders it no longer weapons grade, but burying it for 1000 years does not – that could be why the Russians rejected the ‘dilute and bury’ option. It’s really a waste to blend down Pu239 into MOX for light water reactors anyway – plutonium works better in a fast spectrum reactor, and could be used to breed uranium 238 or thorium 232 into fuel, meaning no new mining would be needed for hundreds of years, and the existing spent fuel could be used again and again. As long as they’re safeguarded, perhaps under international oversight, plutonium stocks aren’t an urgent problem, any more than spent fuel – they can wait till the need, and the technology, is ready. CO2 is an urgent problem.

  3. neilrieck Says:

    We have plenty of Uranium in Canada

  4. John Oneill Says:

    The video shows the steps needed to go from ore to fuel – yellowcake, to uranium hexafluoride gas, to enrichment of U235 (by far the largest energy cost), to uranium dioxide, to fuel pellets, to fuel tube assemblies… except the photo of fuel tube assemblies shown is for Canadian heavy water reactors, which do not need the uranium hexafluoride and enrichment steps. They go straight from yellowcake to UO2, and ‘burn’ natural, unenriched uranium. The Bruce and Darlington refurbishent programs going on in Ontario are the largest nuclear projects in North America after Vogtle, and Pickering is the largest power plant, by output, of any type of generator in North America. Not coincidentally, Ontario has by far the lowest carbon dioxide emissions of any region in North America, apart from a few like Quebec that are overwhelmingly hydro.
    Bill Gates’ Terrapower reactor, slated to be built in Wyoming, does need HALEU, but most other proposed new reactors do not. By the time the Natrium is built, higher enriched fuel should not be a problem – heck, even the Iranians can make it …

  5. J4Zonian Says:

    Well you’re right. Anyone willing to face the reality of climate catastrophe & not willing to gamble on an insanely uncertain outcome will not agree with his endorsement of Net Zero 2050. It’s nothing but a delaying tactic & lie, a practiced greenwash of the continued determination to do essentially nothing. It’s a surrender to the psychopathy of capitalism, a tacit agreement to allow the oligarchy ever-intensifying control in its drive toward fascism & thus utter destruction. It’s all-of-the-above plus let’s-just-wait-and-see…whether civilization & nature survive..without really doing anything to stop it.

    He does indeed provide a nonstop barrage of basic disinfo.

    “Net” zero means “Not zero”—people attempt to make up for the emissions they don’t feel like stopping, with what Joe Romm called ripoffsets—tree planting & wildlands preservation, eg. in developing countries where land & labor are cheap, & btw, oversight is minimal. So we pay someone to not cut a forest. Maybe they don’t, maybe they just say they don’t. Even if they don’t, unless we reduce the use of wood, there’s a lot of pressure & nothing to stop the same or other people leaving those trees & cutting some other ones.

    At a time when the insane right wing has delayed progress for nearly half a century, & there are no non-radical solutions that have any hope of succeeding, we have to do everything in the world all at once, for generations at least. Substituting one thing we absolutely have to do for another thing we absolutely have to do won’t work. Calling doing nothing “epic” & only going at the pace the oligarchs are comfortable with won’t work.

    By saying the nukes that can be safely operated should be kept going is to imply the lie that we knew Kyshtym, Tokaimura, Browns Ferry, TMI, Chernobyl & Fukushima, Zaporizhzhia & Chernobyl were unsafe before each disaster, & saying the same about the hundreds of near-misses. They were unsafe, & while some of us know that they’re all unsafe & we must never build another, we had no more idea than we do now about which will be the next inevitable, disaster.

    By not acknowledging the direness of the climate crisis, & thus not acknowledging how fast & how radical the changes we need to make are, he decides to lie about everything.

    Because he fails to recognize that direness, he’s optimistic about the wrong things—the comfortable, familiar things. He denies, ignores, or glosses over the things that actually provide hope of succeeding—chief among them the power of the vast majority to take power & start making rational decisions. He’s hopeful about the relaxed, “market”-determined pace of change—that is, the pace determined by the emotional illness of fossil & fissile fuel & other corporations, & by the far right that owns & is owned by those corporations & rich donors, & by the phenomenal wealth backing them. The pace has been determined by the indoctrination & denial industry they’ve created, & its decades of pounding conservative frames into the public mind through lies.

    Such disinformed hope allows people willing to be lied to the complacency to do nothing, to be OK with our government & society doing nothing; it allows our rulers to lead us further into fascism & ecological wreckage, while blunting & deflecting desire for the political action needed to force an emergency declaration, a US WWI-like mobilization, & the solutions that will actually work.


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