Areva selects enrichment site

07 May 2008

Areva has confirmed a site 30 kilometres west of Idaho Falls, near the US Department of Energy's (DoE's) Idaho National Laboratory, as the place for its potential new $2 billion centrifuge enrichment plant. 


The company has been investigating several US sites, but Idaho Falls has been the favourite for some time. Michael McMurphy, President of Areva Inc. said that it "has strong ties to nuclear energy and welcomed Areva and its proposed enrichment facility to become a new member of the community."


The new plant will provide uranium enrichment services to US nuclear plant operators using advanced proven centrifuge technology developed by the Urenco and Enrichment Technology Company Ltd (ETC), an Areva subsidiary. This is the same as is used in Europe by Urenco.


Its capacity will be 3 million separative work units (SWU) per year. It is part of Areva's "strategic business plan of expanding the US commercial nuclear infrastructure." Areva expects to apply for a Nuclear Regulatory Commission licence during 2008 with a view to operation in 2014, ramping up to full capacity in 2019. It will be a smaller version of Areva's new French plant, George Besse II.


New US enrichment


The news comes only a week after GE-Hitachi announced selection of Wilmington, North Carolina as the site for its Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) facility based on Australian Silex technology. The commercial GLE facility would have a target capacity of between 3.5 and 6 million separative work units (SWU). GEH intends to make a final decision on construction early in 2009.


Another centrifuge plant being built in the USA is the National Enrichment Facility at Eunice, New Mexico. This $1.5 billion plant uses ETC technology from Europe and is the same size as Areva's proposed facility. Construction was licensed in mid 2006 and the three sponsoring utilities then passed their share to Urenco.  First production is expected in the next twelve moths, with full capacity being reached in 2013.


Current domestic enrichment in the USA is at USEC's Paducah, Kentucky plant - the remaining one of two large gaseous diffusion plants commissioned in the mid 1950s. It has an 8 million SWU per year nominal capacity but uses 50 times as much energy per SWU as the new centrifuge plants. USEC is building a new $3.5 billion plant at Piketon, Ohio, with very large US-designed centrifuges. It will have 3.8 million SWU per year capacity. By the end of 2008 USEC hopes to have a cascade with 30-40 machines installed, and begin testing them in 2009.  The project has suffered major delays and cost increases.


The 104 reactors currently operating in the USA require 12.7 million SWU per year of enrichment, almost half of which comes from Russian high-enriched uranium. The Russian supply will cut out in 2013. The four new plants will comfortably supply the whole US market after USEC's Paducah closes down.  However, both the American Centrifuge and the Global Laser Enrichment technologies have yet to be proven commercially.