The initial phase of the test loop program for the SILEX laser enrichment technology has been successfully completed by Global Laser Enrichment (GLE).
GLE - a venture launched by GE-Hitachi and in which Cameco has since taken a stake - began operations of the test loop facility in July 2009 at its facilities in Wilmington, North Carolina. The test loop facility is designed to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of the technology and is intended to advance the design of the equipment and processes for the proposed commercial production facility.
In 2006, GE-Hitachi acquired the exclusive rights to develop and commercialize the SILEX uranium enrichment technology globally through a licence from Australia's Silex Systems Ltd.
Michael Goldsworthy, CEO of Silex Systems, commented: "This is an important milestone towards the commercialization of the SILEX laser enrichment technology." He added, "This means that the technology has met key enrichment performance criteria, and that activities going forward, including further test loop measurements, will focus increasingly on the engineering design effort for a potential commercial production facility."
In a statement, Silex Systems said: "As the program moves beyond the initial measurement program, the test loop will be modified and continue to operate to gain additional operating and lifetime data on the technology to assist the engineering design effort."
It added, "GLE will continue to evaluate the project throughout this phase to decide whether to proceed with a commercial production facility with a target capacity of three to six million Separative Work Units (SWU)."
GLE anticipates gleaning sufficient data from the test loop by the end of 2010 to decide whether to proceed with a full-scale commercial enrichment facility. It would be one of a handful of new enrichment facilities in the USA, but the only one in the world to use laser excitation to separate uranium-235 from the marginally heavier uranium-238. Other new facilities use centrifuges, while older facilities have used a diffusion process.
The proposed enrichment plant would be co-located with the existing nuclear fuel manufacturing facilities of Global Nuclear Fuel and the new plants and services business of GE-Hitachi, headquartered in Wilmington.
In June 2009, GLE completed its combined construction and operating license (COL) application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to build the world's first uranium enrichment facility based on laser technology.
In January 2010, the NRC formally established a 30-month application review schedule. In February, during a public licensing meeting, the NRC indicated they were working to a 30-month schedule which would be completed in December 2011. This means that the commercial facility license could be received as early as January 2012, after which construction of the production plant could proceed.
GE holds a 51% majority ownership stake in GLE, while Hitachi holds a 25% stake and Cameco 24%.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News