USEC announced that it aims to update its loan guarantee application within months after continued progress during the first quarter of 2010 with its American Centrifuge testing program.
American Centrifuge prototype machines in the lead cascade test program (Image: USEC)
The company said that its lead cascade of AC100 machines has accumulated some 365,000 machine hours of operational experience, which it plans to build up "while we continue to manufacture and install additional centrifuge machines."
Suppliers have assembled approximately 20 additional AC100 machines, which are now operating individually and which the company may introduce into the current cascade later this year. As a result, the remaining machines in a cascade of prototypes have been taken out of service to be replaced with new AC100 machines in future.
USEC aims intends to be able to maintain the American Centrifuge plant by replacing any centrifuge with a spare machine as necessary, and several such spares are now in position in its lead cascade which is running at full speed with uranium gas. However, under its operating licence for the demonstration facility, USEC will be required to remove the uranium from all its machines in the lead cascade testing program during a two-week period in May to confirm the uranium inventory. USEC said that the AC100 machines will continue to run at speed during this period.
The partially-built American Centrifuge Plant (ACP) in Piketon, Ohio, with a planned capacity of 3.8 million SWU, will comprise two production buildings with space for some 11,500 centrifuges. It had originally been scheduled for commercial operation this year but financing for the plant has long been a concern.
As of the end of March, USEC has invested some $1.8 billion in the project, with additional capital beyond the $2 billion that would be covered by a loan guarantee still required for completion. USEC said that it has reduced the scope of project activities that were underway in 2009 until it has that financing.
USEC has previously said that completing the plant would be impossible without a loan guarantee and prepared to 'demobilise' - or cancel - the partially build plant when the Department of Energy denied its request in July 2009. One month later, the DoE agreed to postpone its final decision by some six months to allow USEC to address financial and technical concerns and set a series of 'technology and financial milestones'.
The DoE helped again in March when it signed a cooperative agreement with USEC, under which it will take the disposal obligation (but not immediate possession or custody) for a limited quantity of depleted uranium tails from USEC, releasing $45 million in cash for investment in American Centrifuge demonstration that USEC had otherwise committed to future tails disposition obligations. USEC will match the $45 million, for a total investment of $90 million.
Plant design work is about 80% complete and this could be resumed following an official decision to 'remobilize' the American Centrifuge project. The company said it plans to continue manufacturing a limited number of AC100 machines over the rest of 2010 as part of the scope of work under its cooperative agreement with the DoE to maintain its supplier base and to demonstrate the capability to manufacture production-ready centrifuge machines within its design specifications.
USEC president and CEO John Welch said, "We had a very solid quarter of accomplishments for the American Centrifuge project. With our strategic suppliers, we completed assembly, installation and start-up activities for approximately two dozen of our AC100 machines, which are the production-ready commercial centrifuge machines. In March, we began operation of a cascade of AC100 machines in a commercial plant configuration. This accomplishment will provide substantial data and operating experience, and confirms that this technology is ready for commercial deployment." He added, "We are targeting to update our application with the Loan Guarantee Office this summer."
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News