Urenco expands enrichment capacity

27 January 2010

Correction - An earlier version of this item said that Urenco was jointly owned by the UK, Dutch and German governments. In fact, the German share of Urenco is held by German utilities E.ON and RWE.


Uranium enrichment company Urenco reported that its production capacity significantly increased in 2009 through expansion projects at its European sites and will be boosted further this year with the start up of its new US facility.


Urenco centrifuges
Cascades of uranium enrichment centrifuges. Urenco has enough of these to meet 25% of the world
demand. (Image: Urenco)
The company reported that some 1.2 million SWU* of centrifuge enrichment capacity were added during 2009 through expansion projects across sites in Europe and the USA. This brought Urenco's total enrichment capacity to 12.2 million SWU per year.


Urenco said that the expansion of its site at Almelo, the Netherlands, progressed well in 2009, with the completion of the fifth cascade hall and the start of construction of the sixth hall. Capacity at Almelo stood at 4.4 million SWU per year at the end of 2009. Urenco added that, in late 2009, the company's board had approved a further expansion of the Almelo facility with extensions to both Halls 5 and 6. Construction at Almelo is expected to start in the second half of 2010. In Germany, the Separation Hall 2 of its Gronau facility began operating in 2009. The Gronau plant had an annual capacity of 2.75 million SWU as at 31 December 2009.


The company said that its new National Enrichment Facility (NEF) enrichment plant, in Eunice, New Mexico, is ready to start commercial operations, pending approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This is expected in early 2010, Urenco said. The addition of the US plant, together with continued expansion of its European facilities, will increase Urenco's enrichment capacity to 18 million SWU per year by 2015.


In 2009, Urenco's board also approved the construction of the tails management facility (TMF) at Urenco's facility in Capenhurst, UK. This will be used to treat Urenco's depleted uranium tails, a by-product of the enrichment process. The company said it will deconvert a significant part of this by-product through the TMF. The Capenhurst facility had a capacity of just over 5 million SWU per year at the end of 2009.


Urenco said that it has a forward order book of €19.5 billion ($27.5 billion) which extends beyond 2025.


The company said that, during 2010, it will "continue to pursue capacity expansion in order to meet the growing enrichment demands of its customer base." It added that 2010 "will include major milestones for Urenco with the start of commercial operations at its new US plant and the start of construction of the TMF."


Urenco - which has a 25% share of the global uranium enrichment market - is jointly owned by the governments of the Netherlands and the UK, and by the German utilities E.ON and RWE. The British government is preparing to sell its one-third stake in Urenco as part of a plan to cut billions from national debt. Such a move has been under consideration for several years in line with an overall policy to end national ownership of nuclear businesses.


* SWU, or Separative Work Unit, is the unit used to measure the energy required to separate uranium-235 from uranium-238.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News