Flexible Fuel Solutions
Nuclear power plant operators typically enter into long-term contracts with one, or a number of fuel services suppliers for uranium conversion, enrichment, and finally fabrication into fuel assemblies. Uranium concentrates are often acquired separately either through long-term contracts or on the spot market. Cameco provides uranium concentrates and UF6 conversion services operators of light water reactors. In the case of CANDU heavy water reactors, Cameco is able to provide a single source for the operator’s nuclear fuel requirements including fuel fabrication.
Refining and conversion services
There are very few major commercial conversion companies operating worldwide—in the United States, Canada, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Russia. Cameco’s Ontario facilities are the only commercial plants in Canada.
Cameco provides UF6 conversion services to utilities in the Americas, Europe and Asia, primarily through long-term contracts, and controls about 25% of the world’s conversion capacity.
About 90% of the world’s commercial reactors (all except heavy water reactors and some gas-cooled reactors) require enriched uranium fuel. Commercial-scale enrichment plants are located in the United States, Russia, France, Great Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. Many countries operating nuclear power reactors rely on enrichment services outside their borders.
Enrichment services are sold in separative work units (SWU). SWU is a measure of the amount of energy required to increase the concentrations of U235. The economics of uranium enrichment depend on:
- The amount and current cost of uranium feed (UF6) at the beginning of the process
- The concentration of U235 required
- The amount of SWU used
- The concentration of U235 the operator is prepared to leave in the tails assay at the end of the process.
Operators typically seek the most economical combination of UF6 feed and SWU. For example, if the cost of SWU is high, while the cost of UF6 feedstock is low, then it’s more economical to use more feedstock and less SWU (energy) to produce the amount of fuel and enrichment level required. Therefore the amount of U235 remaining in the tails assays at the end of the process would be higher. The opposite is also true. If the cost of UF6 feedstock is high and SWU is lower, then less UF6 processed with more energy can produce the same amount of fuel resulting in lower amounts of U235 remaining in tail assays.
Like enrichment, fuel fabrication is a specialized service rather than a commodity transaction. Nuclear fuel assemblies are highly engineered products, manufactured specifically to each customer’s specifications. These are determined by the physical characteristics of the reactor, by the reactor operating and fuel cycle management strategy of the utility as well as national, and even regional, licensing requirements.
Cameco specializes in fuel fabrication for CANDU heavy water reactors. Fuel fabrication services for light water reactors (LWRs) are offered by about a dozen suppliers operating in 14 countries at about 20 facilities.