The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a request for proposals (RFP) for uranium enrichment services to help establish a reliable domestic supply of fuels using high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) — a crucial material needed to deploy the advanced nuclear reactors that are expected to help reach the Biden administration’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Currently, HALEU is not commercially available from U.S.-based suppliers.

In total, the administration’s Inflation Reduction Act will provide up to $500 million for HALEU enrichment contracts selected through this RFP and a separate one, released in November, for services to deconvert the uranium enriched through this RFP into metal, oxide, and other forms to be used as fuel for advanced reactors.

The existing US fleet of reactors runs on uranium fuel that is enriched up to 5% with uranium-235, the main fissile isotope that produces energy during a chain reaction. However, the most advanced U.S. reactors require HALEU, which is enriched between 5% to 20%. HALEU will also allow developers to optimize their systems for longer-life cores, increased efficiencies and better fuel utilization.

DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy plans to award one or more contracts to produce HALEU from domestic uranium enrichment capabilities. Once enriched, the HALEU material will be stored on site until there is a need to ship it to deconverters.

Under the HALEU enrichment contracts, which have a maximum duration of 10 years, the government assures each contractor a minimum order value of $2 million, to be fulfilled over the term of the contract. Enrichment and storage activities must occur in the continental United States and comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.