Exelon and Entergy have signed non-binding letters of intent to contract for uranium enrichment services from GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH). The utilities may also provide GEH with facility licensing and public acceptance support if needed for development of a commercial-scale Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) plant.
GEH is currently working to commercialise the next generation SILEX Laser Enrichment Technology, now known as "Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) Technology". Following the signing of a Commercialisation and License Agreement between Silex and GE in 2006, GEH is accelerating development activities in preparation for future production of enriched uranium fuel for use in commercial nuclear power reactors.
GEH has begun preparing its GLE "test loop" at the nuclear fuel manufacturing facility operated by Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF), a joint venture owned by GE, Hitachi and Toshiba, co-located at GEH's nuclear energy headquarters site in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Before moving ahead with full-scale production plans, GEH will first evaluate results of the testing, select a location for the proposed facility and obtain an NRC license to build and operate the commercial plant. Site selection and commercial licensing activities are currently underway to support a projected start-up date of 2012. GEH's commercial GLE facility would have a target capacity of between 3.5 and 6 million separative work units (SWU).
"We are thrilled to sign these letters of intent with Exelon and Entergy, which demonstrate the nuclear industry's interest in the commercial development of our next-generation, laser enrichment technology," said Andy White, President and CEO of GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy. "We are investing in GLE to help ensure that a consistent and secure supply of enriched uranium is available to our customers in the coming decades."
Michael Goldsworthy, MD of Silex Systems, added "We are very excited about the future prospects for the Company, with several of its technologies now moving closer to commercialisation." Application of SILEX to stable isotopes is also being developed by Silex Systems near Sydney.
Exelon and Entergy, the two largest US nuclear utilities with some 28 nuclear power reactors between them, are the first utilities to sign letters of intent with GEH's GLE unit. Both are longtime nuclear reactor technology and services customers of GEH and of GNF.
GLE/SILEX is the only remaining laser process on the world stage to enrich uranium. The main molecular processes work on a principle of photo-dissociation of UF6 to solid UF5, using tuned laser radiation to ionise U-235 atoms and break the molecular bond holding the sixth fluorine atom. This then enables the UF5 to be separated from the unaffected UF6 molecules containing U-238 atoms, hence achieving a separation of isotopes. Any process using UF6 fits more readily within the conventional fuel cycle than atomic processes which were earlier under development in USA and France.
WNA's Uranium Enrichment information paper