Another blow to American Centrifuge

16 October 2009

Fresh disappointment came for USEC yesterday when the Department of Energy (DoE) said it could not support a program to prove the company's centrifuge technology.


American Centrifuge from the air (USEC)
The American Centrifuge plant site
The loss of $30 million for the next financial year comes after the DoE's July decision to refuse USEC a loan guarantee to help it secure finance for the American Centrifuge facility at Piketon, Ohio. At the time the company said it would have to 'demobilise' the project, on which it had already spent $1.5 billion.


The DoE placed USEC's application on hold and gave the company a chance to improve its application by proving the commercial viability of its technology. The DoE was to financially support a proving program with $30-45 million per year, starting in the financial year 2010.


However, the $30 million for the first financial year was recently denied by Congress during the appropriations process. And in another piece of bad news for USEC it has emerged that a manufacturing fault in its centrifuges will mean several months' delay while replacement parts are made and the units rebuilt.


"For both these reasons," the DoE said, it "does not see a path to providing the $30 million in technology demonstration funding at this time."


In a statement, the DoE noted that the deal with USEC still stands to postpone review of its loan guarantee application until certain "technical and financial milestones are met," which would probably take six months even without the delay of rebuilding.


The department noted that it had "worked closely" with USEC this year on its loan guarantee application, and had put an extra $150-200 million per year into Cold War clean-up at an adjacent site managed by the company. This boost should lead to 800-1000 new jobs, the DoE said, which would offset the 750 jobs at risk on the American Centrifuge.