Areva's American enrichment plan

29 June 2007

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has released information provided to it by Areva on the company's plans to construct a centrifuge uranium enrichment plant.

A delegation from Areva presented information on its plans on 21 May. It said a 3 million separative work unit (SWU) enrichment plant could begin operation in 2013 and reach full capacity by 2017. Such a development would meet Areva's "strategic business plan of expanding the US commercial nuclear infrastructure."

In 2006 Areva entered into a joint venture project with Urenco, creating a new firm called Enrichment Technology Company (ETC), which then supplied Urenco-developed centrifuges to Areva for its George Besse II plant (GBII), which is currently under construction.

GBII received a licence to operate at up to 8.2 million SWU per year, enriching uranium up to a maximum of 6% in April. The plant's first cascade is set for operation in the first half of 2009.

Areva now propose to create a US company which would use ETC-supplied centrifuges. That company would be 'formally in place' by the third quarter of 2007, said Areva. It would go on to be the licence applicant and thereafter licence holder under NRC oversight. According to Areva's presentation, a contract to perform a site selection study should already have been awarded with the aim of selecting a site by the end of 2007. It expects to submit a licence application in mid-2008, recieve a decision from NRC and begin construction in the second quarter of 2010.

The Areva presentation put its potential plant in the context of the US uranium enrichment situation. Fuel for the USA's 104 operating power reactors requires 12.7 million SWUs of enrichment services per year, but the country relies on imports for more than 90% of that. The downblending of high-enriched uranium from Russian weapons stockpiles provides 50% of supply, but this agreement expires in 2013.

Another factor in the US market is the ongoing struggle over trade in uranium enrichment. The US Department of Commerce has imposed levies on enrichment carried out in France at George Besse I and at Urenco, ruling that the operations were unfairly state subsidised.

Meanwhile, another enrichment plant, the National Enrichment Facility (NEF), is being built in New Mexico by Urenco subsidiary Louisiana Energy Services. NEF has a planned capacity of 3 million SWUs, which it should reach in 2013

Usec is also constructing its American Centrifuge plant in Piketon, Ohio, which would replace its far more energy-intensive gaseous diffusion facility - currently the USA's only uranium enrichment facility. The American Centrifuge has a planned capacity of 3.8 million SWUs, which it should reach in 2012.

French state-owned Areva already operates in 45 locations in the USA through its Areva Inc. subsidiary.

Further information

Areva

US Nuclear Regulatory Commission

WNA's Uranium Enrichment information paper

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