Supply chain issues coming out of the invasion of Ukraine has hit a number of industries, and the advanced nuclear reactor is the latest.
TerraPower announced this week it would be delaying its advanced nuclear reactor demonstration project in Kemmerer by a couple years due to the lack of fuel for the project.
Energy expert Robert Bryce said on a video he tweeted on Wednesday that TerraPower officials had hinted this could be a problem at a press conference they held during the International Atomic Energy Agency Ministerial Conference in October.
The advanced nuclear reactors that TerraPower and PacifiCorp are building under the brand name Natrium require High-Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU). There’s a single company in the world that makes the fuel, and that is the Russian state-owned company Techsnabexport, known internationally as TENEX.
Conventional reactors run on uranium fuel that is enriched up to 5% with uranium-235. HALEU is enriched somewhere between 5% and 20%. According to the Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy, the fuel allows the advanced reactors like TerraPower is building to optimize their systems and increase efficiency.
Even before the invasion of Ukraine, the DOE was estimating that the U.S. would need 40 metric tons of HALEU before the end of the decade, for the planned fleet of advanced nuclear reactors.
In announcing the delay, TerraPower President Chris Levesque said the company is working with Congress and the DOE to explore alternative sources of the fuel. They’re hoping to get an appropriation of $2.1 billion in the year-end government funding package to support the development of HALEU sources domestically and in U.S.-allied countries.
However, those sources will take time to develop and won’t be commercially available in time to avoid delays in the project.
Levesque said the company remains committed to the Kemmerer project, and he still expects construction to start in the spring.
“While there is much we can’t control as it relates to fuel availability, what we can control is construction of the plant, licensing applications and engineering and design work; and TerraPower is moving full steam ahead on those fronts,” Levesque said.