First contract for uranium deconversion plant

20 April 2010

International Isotopes Inc will provide depleted uranium deconversion services for Louisiana Energy Services' Urenco USA enrichment plant under a newly announced agreement between International Isotopes.

International Isotopes is planning to build a deconversion and fluorine extraction facility at Hobbs, New Mexico, about 30 miles (50 km) from the Urenco USA plant (known as the National Enrichment Facility before rebranding in January 2010). This will convert depleted uranium hexafluoride, the so-called 'tails' from the uranium enrichment process, into uranium tetrafluoride which is then used as a feedstock for International Isotopes' patented fluorine extraction process (FEP). The company said that high-purity fluoride gas products currently enjoy a "robust market."

The new agreement will extend over the first five years of the deconversion plant's operation, but is contingent on International Isotopes meeting certain performance milestones in the construction and planned start-up of the facility by the end of 2013. International Isotopes applied to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a construction and operating licence for the plant in December 2009.

According to International Isotopes, the agreement with Louisiana Energy Services (LES) for fee-based deconversion services represents one of four revenue streams from its new facility. The other three will be the sale of anhydrous hydrofluoric acid extracted in the deconversion process, industrial fluoride gases from the FEP process, used in the manufacture of high-purity silicon products and microelectronics, and the provision of related ancillary fee-based services such as uranium hexafluoride cylinder cleaning, inspection and re-testing. Recovered depleted uranium oxide would be disposed of in licensed facilities as low-level radioactive waste.

International Isotopes president and CEO Steve T Laflin described LES as an "important first customer" for the deconversion facility. "We have long believed it is important to establish a commercial option for dealing with depleted uranium from the front end of the fuel cycle, and this agreement confirms the enrichment industry's interest in that commercial option," he said.

The first cascade at the Urenco USA centrifuge enrichment plant, where first low-frequency spin tests were successfully completed in February, is awaiting NRC approval before beginning commercial operations. It is due to reach its nameplate capacity of 3 million SWU per year in 2013 (SWU stands for separative work units, the unit of measurement for the work needed to enrich uranium in fissile uranium-235 ready for use in nuclear fuel). LES has further plans to increase the plant's capacity to 5.7 million SWU/y over the period 2014-17.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News