United States announces details of the American Assured Fuel Supply

The United States announced availability of low-enriched uranium derived from its surplus HEU for use in commercial nuclear power fuel. Details of the arrangement, the American Assured Fuel Supply (AFS), are described in a notice published in Federal Register (Vol. 76, No. 160, p. 51357).

In 2005, the United States announced the Reliable Fuel Supply initiative, which set aside 17.4 tonnes of HEU to be down-blended for use in a fuel reserve. However, at the time the U.S. government did not specify the mechanism for access to that reserve. The current announcement creates this mechanism.

According to the notice, access to the fuel reserve will be open to "eligible recipients that meet certain nonproliferation criteria in the case of supply disruptions in the nuclear fuel market." The notice, however, does not specify what these "certain nonproliferation criteria" are. In addition, the Department of Energy would have to confirm that "there is a fuel supply disruption that cannot be addressed by normal market mechanisms." In case all the criteria are met, the recipient would be able to purchase the LEU through a U.S. intermediary. The fuel would apparently be considered "U.S. obligated," so the recipient would have to obtain U.S. consent regarding handling of the fuel after it is irradiated in a reactor.

Down-blending of 17.4 tonnes will produce about 290 tonnes of LEU, of which about 230 tonnes will constitute the reserve. The rest will be used to pay for the costs associated with down-blending and processing of the material. Most of the down-blending has been already done, with the rest to be completed in 2012. DoE announced that it is ready to accept requests for purchase of the material from the AFS reserve.

UPDATE: In December 2013 the U.S. government issued a notice that outlined application requirements.