The cost estimate for Usec's American Centrifuge plant project has increased to $2.3 billion, but the company says this will be partly offset by an increase in plant capacity through improved centrifuge performance.
Enrichment is a vital step in the process of producing nuclear reactor fuel. Usec operates the only enrichment plant in the USA, at Paducah, Kentucky. The American Centrifuge Plant project is one of two new centrifuge enrichment plants being built in the USA, to replace the operating gaseous diffusion plant. Centrifuge technology is about 50 times more energy efficient than diffusion.
Cost estimates for the new plant, to be built at Piketon, Ohio, have been revised as the result of a comprehensive review, from an initial cost estimate of $1.7 billion. The new target estimate of $2.3 billion is still subject to change to reflect the market price of materials and commercial scale component manufacture. At the same time, Usec has announced a revised schedule reflecting a previously announced delay to construction of the lead cascade facility to allow for additional testing of individual machines.
The testing has revealed that the Lead Cascade centrifuge machine's performance exceeds its initial target capacity by 10%. This would result in an overall increase of the plant's capacity from 320 SWU * to 350 SWU, which would also go some way towards offsetting the increased cost. While the company expects to have sufficient access to cash to fund activities in 2007, it warns that "some form of investment or other participation" by a third party and/or the US government is needed to raise the capital required in 2008 and beyond to complete on target. To this end, Usec is already exploring possibilities with companies that may have a strategic interest in the nuclear fuel business.
The Lead Cascade is expected to be operational by mid-2007, and Usec is now working towards starting commercial operation in late 2009, ramping up to 11,500 machines providing about 3.8 million SWU capacity by 2012.
* SWU, or Separative Work Unit, is the unit used to measure the energy required to separate uranium-235 from uranium-238.
WNA's Uranium Enrichment information paper