Axios Pro Exclusive Content

Centrus is about to corner the U.S. nuclear fuel market

Illustration of an atom with a coin as the nucleus.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Centrus Energy last week announced it finished building centrifuges to make nuclear fuel for advanced reactors.

Why it matters: The vast majority of advanced nuclear reactors will rely on a fuel known as HALEU, or High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium. Centrus is about to corner that market.

Driving the news: Centrus built 16 centrifuges at its facility in Piketon, Ohio, to make HALEU.

  • Nine of the 10 reactor designs chosen to receive federal funding for advanced reactors will need HALEU. These include designs by companies like TerraPower and X-energy.
  • Centrus says production could begin this year, pending sign-off from regulators.
  • That would make its plant the first U.S.-owned enrichment site using U.S. tech since the Eisenhower era.

Of note: Centrus is spending $150 million to complete the plant — though it's splitting that cost 50-50 with the U.S. Department of Energy.

State of play: Russia is the only large-scale HALEU supplier. Its invasion of Ukraine sparked a sudden shortage.

  • The Bill Gates-backed reactor developer TerraPower, for example, said the upheaval was forcing it to delay its timeline.

Meanwhile, potential competitors face years of regulatory approvals.

  • Those possible rivals include Orano, whose parent company is based in France, and Urenco, jointly owned by the British, Dutch and German companies.
  • Both companies provide enrichment services for the U.S. But neither has yet moved ahead with HALEU — which has attracted some scrutiny about Centrus' government connections.

The intrigue: Centrus, formerly known as United States Enrichment, went bankrupt when uranium prices collapsed with the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

  • Centrus has close ties to the feds — a vital relationship for a sector as heavily regulated as nuclear energy. (Indeed, Centrus is based in Bethesda.)
  • Longtime CEO Dan Poneman was previously deputy energy secretary in the Obama administration.
Go deeper