The U.S. Department of Energy has released a draft environmental assessment looking at the potential impacts of making fuel for advanced reactors at Idaho National Laboratory’s Materials and Fuels Complex and/or the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center.

The fuel in question was generated decades ago in the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II at the desert site west of Idaho Falls, and is stored there now. The proposal is to process this high-assay low-enriched uranium into fuel that can be used for research and development for companies experimenting with small mobile reactors that, it is hoped, will be useful for providing power in emergency situations or to remote locations.

“There are several U.S. companies pursuing advanced reactor designs that would use fuel enriched with higher levels of uranium-235, and need a source so they can conduct the research and development needed to bring these new technologies to market,” DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Technology Research and Development John Herczeg said in a statement. “Being able to provide a source of this fuel would support this research and development and aligns with the Office of Nuclear Energy’s mission to advance nuclear power as a resource capable of meeting the nation’s energy, environmental and national security needs.”

High-assay low-enriched uranium contains between 5 percent and 20 percent enriched uranium and is used in advanced reactors.

“Currently, there are no commercial facilities in the U.S. immediately capable of producing HALEU (high-assay low-enriched uranium), and several advanced reactor designers have expressed interest in using HALEU fuel with their designs to achieve higher efficiencies and longer core lifetimes,” DOE said in a news release Wednesday.

The proposal is for the federal government to make about 10 metric tons of high assay low-enriched uranium nuclear reactor fuel to support the research, development and demonstration needs of advanced reactor developers and other private-sector developers and private agencies.

The draft is posted online. The final assessment is expected to be issued as early as December, according to a handout DOE gave to Butte County commissioners earlier this month.

“Money has come through Congress on this to help with this,” said Karin Brown, management/program analyst for DOE-Idaho. “It’s a pretty exciting piece of work that we’ll be able to move forward with.”

The public comment period will last through Nov. 30. Comments can be emailed to haleu@id.doe.gov, or mailed to David Herrin, 1955 Fremont Ave., Idaho Falls ID 83415-1222. Paper copies of the proposal are also available on request.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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