25 April 2022
April 25-29 is Green Infrastructure Week which puts a spotlight on the innovative technology that can help the UK transition to net zero.
At Urenco, we’re committed to achieving net zero prior to 2040 and are signed up to The Climate Pledge.
Here, we highlight pivotal areas of our business which will not only help us get there, but potentially the rest of the world, too.
The production of advanced fuels
Current nuclear fuel is low carbon and substantially less uranium is required to produce the same amount of energy as fossil fuels, like coal or gas. Advanced fuels are even greener.
Why? Because they use uranium enriched to higher levels – up to as much as 20 percent. These improve the performance inside nuclear reactors, last longer than conventional nuclear fuel, and thereby also reduce the amount of waste. Furthermore, they mean that overall less uranium will need to be mined, too.
Fuels with enrichment levels between 5 and 10 percent can be used in existing light-water reactors. Advanced reactors currently being developed around the world will use fuel with enrichment levels between 10 and 20 percent. We have our own advanced modular reactor (AMR), U-Battery, which you can read about below.
At Urenco, we have a programme for the production of advanced fuels at our US and UK sites, and this is progressing at pace. For example, we have completed feasibility and site optimisation plans and are looking at the possibility of a dedicated facility. But already it is worth noting that our existing centrifuge technology is capable of producing advanced fuels, and few modifications would be needed.
This project is being undertaken within the framework of international agreements related to Urenco, and we have the knowledge and experience to play a leading role in this area, making a positive contribution to net zero targets.
Our Tails Management Facility (TMF) in the UK
Our core business at Urenco is, of course, uranium enrichment so we can help provide sustainable, green energy across the world.
But further vital to our operations, and sustainability, is the responsible management of the by-product of the enrichment process, known as tails (depleted uranium hexafluoride).
We manage the deconversion of tails into stable uranium oxide (U3O8), a powder which can be stored in the long term prior to further enrichment or safe disposal.
We’re now doing this at our new Tails Management Facility (TMF) at our Capenhurst site in the UK.
The TMF has only been operational for a year and will gradually ramp up its production, processing our European inventory of depleted uranium.
U-Battery, the advanced modular reactor (AMR)
As already put forward by the Government, nuclear energy should be part of our path to a net zero future, given it produces low-carbon electricity.
But nuclear power can also act as a “heat engine,” becoming a dedicated source of heat and power, and enabling hydrogen production. This is the case with a new generation of small “advanced modular reactors” (AMRs), of which our U-Battery is one.
Because of its versatility, our design can provide low carbon heat and power at off-grid or remote locations, and support hydrogen production through either solid oxide electrolysis or thermochemical water splitting.
Its high temperature output (710 °C) could be used for foundation industries (steel, paper and pulp, glass, ceramics, chemicals and minerals) that require a continuous and intense source of heat and are difficult to decarbonise. Beyond these well understood applications, there may be role in producing hydrogen.
Plus, AMRs like the U-Battery are both cheaper and quicker to build when compared to traditional nuclear reactors, using a modular construction approach and an advanced fuel that’s inherently safe.
U-Battery can, therefore, play a valuable role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
We are currently going through the conceptual design and development of the U-Battery, as part of a Government programme, and our next step is towards the engineering design.
Our plan is to deliver a first-of-a-kind U-Battery in the UK by 2028.
Urenco is an international supplier of enrichment services and fuel cycle products with sustainability at the core of its business. Operating in a pivotal area of the nuclear fuel supply chain for 50 years, Urenco facilitates zero carbon electricity generation for consumers around the world.
With its head office near London, UK, Urenco’s global presence ensures diversity and security of supply for customers through enrichment facilities in Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the USA. Using centrifuge technology designed and developed by Urenco, and through the expertise of our people, the Urenco Group provides safe, cost effective and reliable services; operating within a framework of high environmental, social and governance standards, complementing international safeguards.
Urenco is committed to continued investment in the responsible management of nuclear materials; innovation activities with clear sustainability benefits, such as nuclear medicine, industrial efficiency and research; and nurturing the next generation of scientists and engineers.