USEC reaches American Centrifuge milestone

17 March 2010

USEC is operating a cascade of AC100 centrifuge machines in a commercial-plant configuration at its Piketon, Ohio, plant. The company hopes that reaching the milestone will improve its chances of receiving a loan guarantee for its American Centrifuge Plant (ACP).


ACP lead cascade (USEC)
American Centrifuge prototype machines in the lead cascade test program (Image: USEC)
Some two dozen AC100 machines are operating in a lead cascade in a commercial plant configuration and operating under commercial plant conditions, USEC reported. Although this cascade is operating in a closed-loop configuration, where the enriched and depleted streams are recombined after going through the cascade, the flow of uranium feed and tails between individual machines in the cascade is similar to those expected in commercial plant operations.


This cascade is intended to provide additional data on equipment operation and reliability that could identify opportunities to further optimize the centrifuge and cascade design, the company said.


USEC said that a limited number of additional machines may be added to the cascade to support the machine manufacturing infrastructure. Installation and successful operation of these extra machines should further demonstrate that quality control issues in assembly have been rectified, the company said. These initial AC100 machines are expected to be integrated into a commercial cascade or used for spares.


USEC expects the cascade to run until a brief, scheduled outage in June required by its operating licence issued by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).


"This is an important step forward beyond our earlier prototype machines," said USEC president and CEO John Welch. He added, "These are production machines built by our suppliers for the commercial American Centrifuge Plant. Operating these AC100 machines in commercial-plant configuration shows the progress we continue to make in deploying the American Centrifuge technology."


Welch noted, "We have invested more than $1.7 billion in this project to update the technology, to re-establish critical manufacturing infrastructure and to begin construction of the commercial plant. This stage... validates our supply chain for manufacturing of centrifuge machines and confirms that the technology is ready to transition for commercial operation."


Loan guarantee hopes


The partially-built ACP plant, with a capacity of 3.8 million SWU, will comprise two production buildings with space for some 11,500 centrifuges. The plant had originally been scheduled for commercial operation this year but financing for the plant has long been a concern.


In August 2009, the US Department of Energy (DoE) agreed to postpone by some six months a final review of USEC's loan guarantee application for the American Centrifuge Plant (ACP) in Piketon. The additional time was to allow USEC to address the financial and technical concerns that caused the DoE to deny the application in late July. At that time, USEC said that it was preparing to 'demobilise' - or cancel - its partially built uranium enrichment plant after the DoE denied its application.


The DoE said that it would delay the ultimate review of USEC's application until a series of specific technology and financial milestones have been met. It said that the milestones outlined to USEC are in line with the criteria and legal requirements of the statute of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the subsequent loan guarantee regulations, which it said USEC's application did not previously meet.


"Lead cascade operations are integral to our efforts to address DoE's requirements for a loan guarantee," said Welch. "Our mission now will be to accumulate significant run-time on the cascade while we continue to manufacture and install a limited number of additional AC100 centrifuge machines as we keep our manufacturing base active and positioned for remobilization of the project."


To complete the project, USEC believes that it will require additional capital beyond the $2 billion in DoE loan guarantee program funding that it has applied for and the company's internally generated cash flow. The amount of additional capital needed will depend on a variety of factors, including how USEC ultimately determines to restructure and deploy the project, the input received from project suppliers as part of ongoing negotiations, the length of the demobilization, and efficiencies and other cost-savings that USEC is able to achieve in the future. USEC expects that the amount of additional capital needed will be significant.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News


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