Urenco expansion poses no environmental impact, says US NRC

19 March 2015

The US Nuclear Regulation Commission (NRC) has found no significant environmental impact from a proposed expansion of capacity for the Urenco USA uranium enrichment facility with the flexibility to use depleted uranium feedstock.

Urenco lodged its application to expand the plant's capacity to 10 million SWU by 2020 in 2012. An amendment to the special nuclear material licence under which the gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility is operated was lodged in 2014, and would increase the masses of natural, depleted, and enriched uranium authorized to be held on site. It would also authorize the use of a modified enrichment process to utilize high-assay depleted uranium tails as the feed material in the expanded plant.

According to an entry in the US Federal Register, the NRC has now concluded that the proposed actions will not have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment and will not therefore require the preparation of an environmental impact statement.

In its application, Urenco says that the ability to use high-assay depleted uranium as a feedstock will increase the flexibility of the plant, while the need to increase product storage capacity is in part due to a reduction in demand for enriched material and to meet customer needs.

The Urenco USA centrifuge enrichment plant in New Mexico is the only operating uranium enrichment capacity in the USA. The plant has undergone two expansion phases since beginning operations in 2010, and by April 2014 it was working at a capacity of 3.7 million separative work units (SWU). Work is already under way on a third phase of the expansion program, with site capacity scheduled to reach 4.7 million SWU per year by the end of 2015. However, the company recently said that from 2016 new capacity will be installed at a slower rate than originally envisaged, reflecting current market conditions.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News