Funding cuts to American Centrifuge

14 September 2015

A funding cut of some 60% will allow continued development of the American Centrifuge uranium enrichment technology at Oak Ridge, but will not support ongoing centrifuge operations in Piketon, Centrus Energy announced on 11 September.

The US Department of Energy's (DOE's) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) informed Centrus - created from the restructuring of USEC last year - that it intends to extend its contract with the company for an American Centrifuge technology demonstration project, but at a reduced level. Under the American Centrifuge Technology Demonstration and Operations Agreement (ACTDO), signed in May 2014, Centrus acts as a contractor to ORNL, performing "research, development and demonstration" of the technology.

With the revenues from the ACTDO, Centrus has been operating a cascade of centrifuges in Piketon, Ohio, "to demonstrate the long-term performance and reliability of the machines under actual operating conditions".

The new contract will cover the period from 1 October 2015 to 30 September 2016, with the possibility of additional extensions. Funding will be reduced by some 60% to $35 million per year and the scope of the activities will be limited to development activities at Oak Ridge in Tennessee, but will not support continued centrifuge operations in Piketon.

Centrus currently employs 280 technical and other staff in Piketon. The company said it will evaluate possible options for the Ohio facility. However, Centrus said it anticipates incurring costs associated with the reduction in workforce and the further demobilization of the program. Should closure of the Piketon facility be required, Centrus said it will incur "still further costs associated with that closure and return of the facility in compliance with US Nuclear regulatory Commission requirements and pursuant to its lease with DOE".

Centrus vice president Steve Penrod said, "While obviously we are disappointed by the decision to significantly downsize America's advanced centrifuge program, we appreciate the Laboratory's recognition that the technology has been effectively demonstrated over the last two years of hard work at Piketon." He added, "We will work with the Laboratory and with Congress to protect as much of the core capabilities of the program as possible so that the technology will remain ready for deployment when the US government calls upon it for national security purposes."

Daniel Poneman, Centrus president and CEO, said, "In the coming weeks, we will explore options to protect the technology and our workers in Ohio, whose expertise, creativity and dedication represent an invaluable asset for the nation."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News