United States to export HEU fuel for Belgium's BR-2 reactor

In March 2016, the Belgian Nuclear Research Center SCK•CEN in Mol, Belgium withdrew its request for 144 kg of highly-enriched uranium to be used to manufacture the reactor's fuel. The move was explained by the change of a fuel provider. Now SCK•CEN submitted a request for an export license (XSNM3771) for the same amount of material - 134.208 kg of U-235 in 144 kg of HEU enriched to 93.20% - this time to be exported as "325 BR2 Reactor standard HEU driver fuel elements." The fuel will be shipped in increments of up to 5 kg over a period of six years. This material should be able to support operations of the reactor with HEU fuel for another decade. Indeed the HEU license application stated that the conversion of the BR-2 reactor is planned in 2026.

The last time the United States supplied a comparable amount to the BR-2 reactor was 2010, when it shipped 93.5 kg of HEU containing 87.3 kg of U-235. Smaller quantities of HEU, from 0.3 kg to 13.5 kg of HEU, were supplied in 2012-2014 as well.

Shortly before the current HEU application was submitted, SCK•CEN requested 9.3 kg of 19.80% LEU in U-Mo alloy to be supplied to its former fuel fabricator, AREVA CERCA (license XSNM3770). This suggests that SCK•CEN may be conducting some work on converting the BR-2 reactor to LEU.

UPDATE 08/16/2016: On July 11, 2016 the license application was amended (see amended XSNM3771) to change the date of last shipment from December 31, 2026 to December 31, 2025. The amended application also does not include a reference to the reactor conversion. The following sentence has been removed: "Conversion of BR2 Reactor to LEU is currently projected in CY 2026."

UPDATE 08/26/2016: Alan Kuperman, Professor at the University of Texas at Austin and Coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (www.NPPP.org), filed a petition before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requesting "a full and open public hearing" regarding this license application. The petition argues that the export would violate the conditions set by the U.S. Law (in the Schumer Amendment), namely that there is no alternative LEU nuclear fuel that can be used in the reactor. According to the petition, the reactor can be converted to LEU by using silicide fuel that is already qualified and used by other reactors.

UPDATE 09/06/2016: Edlow International requested an extension until October 4, 2016 to respond to Alan Kuperman's petition.

UPDATE 02/17/2017: In its decision taken on February 17, 2017, the NRC denied the request for hearing and directed the Office of International Programs to "issue the export license to Edlow, with a license-termination date of December 31, 2023."