Usec announced that it had successfully started operating American Centrifuge uranium enrichment machines in a cascade configuration in late August at its demonstration facility in Piketon, Ohio. In addition, it has awarded further contracts for the American Centrifuge Plant.
During the tests, uranium hexafluoride gas was gradually introduced in individual machines to approximately two-thirds of planned operating inventory, and then the machines were transitioned to a closed-loop cascade configuration. Usec will continue testing, increase the number of machines in the cascades and gradually increase the gas flow to 100% of planned operating inventory. The company said the tests would aid in confirming design parameters for the machines, to provide further reliability data, and to provide additional training to operators and technicians.
Usec said that the data obtained from these initial tests were consistent with predictions of its analytical models regarding the product assays generated and the separative work unit (SWU) performance achieved. These initial tests validated the feasibility of closed-loop cascade operations and demonstrated the capability of the American Centrifuge technology to produce low enriched uranium at commercial product assay levels.
John Welch, Usec President and CEO, said: "Moving to the next phase of our integrated test program is a crucial step in the process toward deploying the American Centrifuge Plant". He added, "During this phase, we expect to meet the key objectives that we've set out for the Lead Cascade test program."
In August, Usec awarded two contracts related to the American Centrifuge Plant. Major Tool & Machine of Indianapolis, Indiana, was awarded a contract worth some $175 million to manufacture steel casings for the centrifuge machines. The contract will run until 2012. In 2004, Major Tool & Machine was chosen to provide casings for the Lead Cascade.
Usec has also entered into a three-way manufacturing supply agreement with Hexcel and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) for carbon fibre for rotor tubes. Hexcel will produce carbon fibre at its facilities in Salt Lake City, Utah, and deliver it to ATK, who will use it to manufacture composite rotor tubes at its facilities in Rocket Center, West Virginia. The agreement, worth some $100 million, will run until 2011.
The American Centrifuge plant will be based on large energy-efficient centrifuge machines, developed from original designs by the US Department of Energy. Its modular construction would mean that more capacity could be added relatively cheaply.
The company has scheduled commercial operation to begin in late 2009, ramping up to 11,500 machines providing a 3.8 million separative work unit (SWU) capacity by 2012 as more cascade modules are brought online. Total costs for the new plant are estimated at $2.3 billion.
The enrichment process increases the concentration of the fissionable uranium isotope (uranium-235) in order to produce nuclear reactor fuel. The licence Usec holds for the eventual plant would allow it to enrich uranium up to an assay level of 10% uranium-235, and be expanded to a capacity of 7 million SWU.
Major Tool & Machine
WNA's US Nuclear Power Industry information paper
WNA's Uranium Enrichment information paper
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