American Centrifuge demonstration plant completes operations

22 February 2016

Centrus Energy Corporation has announced the completion of operations at the American Centrifuge demonstration uranium enrichment plant in Ohio. Decontamination and decommissioning activities will begin within weeks, but the company plans to maintain its construction and operating licence for a commercial plant at the site.

Piketon's demonstration cascade has completed its work (Image: Centrus)

The demonstration plant at the Piketon site has completed three years of operations. It was intended to demonstrate the long-term performance and reliability of US-developed centrifuge enrichment technology prior to commercial deployment in the American Centrifuge Plant at the site.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) granted Centrus a combined construction and operating licence for the commercial plant in 2007, and commercial operation was expected by 2010. However, the project was slowed and eventually halted in 2009 after problems securing federal loan guarantees.

The demonstration plant continued to receive federal funding enabling it to continue operations, but the US Department of Energy (DOE) announced in September 2015 that it would not fund additional operations as the centrifuge cascade had successfully delivered the necessary data. Since the end of September, Centrus has funded ongoing operations while exploring other potential uses for the facility and workforce.

Centrus CEO Daniel Poneman said the completion of the project was a "painful day" for the Piketon team. "They have met every milestone in this project, which they completed on time and under budget," he said.

The demonstration cascade will now be demobilized, with the first employees laid off during the week beginning 29 February. Decontamination and decommissioning work will begin "in the coming weeks" in accordance with the demonstration facility's licence. Centrus said that it intends to maintain core technical capabilities and preserve the opportunity to support future nuclear activities at Piketon.

According to Centrus, the DOE determined in October 2015 that the US must "restore its uranium enrichment capacity to meet long-term national security needs." The country can only use uranium for national security purposes that has been enriched by US-origin technology, which precludes uranium from the country's only currently operating uranium enrichment plant - Urenco USA's centrifuge plant in New Mexico, which uses European-developed technology.

The company will continue to develop centrifuge enrichment technology "for national security and energy seruity purposes" at its research and testing facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, under contract to the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Centrus will incur costs associated with the decontamination and decommissioning work but said that the decision to cease demonstration activities will not affect its commercial fuel business or deliveries to utility customers. The company said that it will continue to meet its customers' needs for uranium and enriched uranium fuel through a "large, diverse base of supply sources".

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

Filed under: Uranium enrichment, USA