Laser enrichment company purchase agreed

17 December 2019

Silex Systems Limited and Cameco Corporation have executed an agreement to jointly purchase GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy's 76% interest in GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC (GLE) for a total of USD20 million. The purchase will be conditional amongst other things on an existing agreement to purchase depleted uranium tails from the US Department of Energy (DOE) remaining in place. GLE is the exclusive licensee for SILEX laser uranium enrichment technology.

"Successful closing of the agreement will enable GLE to continue the development programme for the SILEX technology at the Test Loop facility in the US, and to potentially move towards commercialising the technology through the Paducah project," Silex CEO Michael Goldsworthy said.

Goldsworthy was referring to ongoing commercialisation efforts at a test loop facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, and plans to enrich depleted uranium tails to natural-grade uranium at a SILEX plant to be built at Paducah, Kentucky. The DOE in 2016 agreed to sell around 300,000 tonnes of depleted uranium hexafluoride to GLE for re-enrichment at the proposed plant. Silex said yesterday the availability of that inventory is critical to the Paducah commercial plant project.

"To this end, Silex, Cameco, GEH and the DOE have negotiated terms for an amendment to the GLE-DOE Sales Agreement involving changes to certain provisions and timelines which re-align the agreement to current market conditions," Silex said. The amendment is expected to be formalised in the next few months.

Laser enrichment technologies potentially offer lower energy inputs, lower capital costs and lower tails assays, and hence significant economic advantages over current commercial centrifuge enrichment technology. GLE, established initially as a partnership between GE Energy and Silex, has since 2008 been responsible for managing the commercialisation of the SILEX (Separation of Isotopes by Laser EXcitation) process. Cameco joined GLE in 2008, but GE-Hitachi in in 2016 announced plans to reduce its equity interest in the venture.

On completion of the purchase, which is also subject to US government approval, Australian company Silex will hold a 51% interest in GLE while Cameco's share will increase from its current 24% to 49%. Cameco will also have an option to purchase an additional 26% interest in GLE in the future, subject to government approvals.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News