Joint venture confirms Paducah interest

09 April 2013

Two more companies have registered their interest in operating the US Department of Energy's (DoE's) Paducah gaseous diffusion enrichment plant and utilising DoE's inventory of depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6).

Paducah (DoE)_200
Paducah (Image: DoE)

International Isotopes Inc has revealed that together with Advanced Process Technology Systems it has submitted a proposal for Paducah to the DoE. The companies have agreed to establish a new joint venture to carry out the opportunity. The company's press release does not detail the joint venture's plans for the site, other than to say that it would "operate a significant portion" of the plant's facilities and utilise the existing inventories of DUF6. Operation is envisaged for at least five years "and perhaps several more depending on a number of economic and market conditions."

The Kentucky facility is the oldest operating uranium enrichment plant in the world, but is due to close down in May 2013 after over 60 years of operation as new US centrifuge capacity comes online. The DoE has been evaluating possible future opportunities for the plant, and in February it issued a request for expressions of interest from industry for the facilities and the inventory of DUF6.

The DoE request set a deadline of 21 February 2013 for potential vendors to register their interest. The company said that it had now chosen to publicly announce that it had registered interest after receiving indications that information on the proposal had been disclosed by "unknown sources."

International Isotopes president and CEO Steve Laflin emphasised that the company's plans to build and operate a depleted uranium deconversion and fluorine extraction processing facility near Hobbs, New Mexico, would not be affected by the proposal. "In fact, there is clearly a synergistic relationship between the [Paducah] opportunity and the plans for that facility," he noted.

DUF6, also called 'tails', is a by-product of the enrichment of uranium to increase its content of fissile uranium-235 for use in nuclear fuel. At its planned New Mexico plant, International Isotopes intends to deconvert DUF6 into a uranium tetrafluoride feedstock for its own patented fluorine extraction process (FEP) to produce high-quality fluoride gases for industrial applications. The process will also produce anhydrous hydrofluoric acid, a saleable by-product, and depleted uranium oxide which would be disposed of as low-level radioactive waste.

GE-Hitachi subsidiary Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) has also submitted an expression of interest for Paducah, including a non-binding proposal to set up a laser uranium enrichment plant using SILEX laser-based enrichment technology at the site. The plant would re-enrich the DUF6, which still contains some uranium-235, to produce commercially valuable uranium.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News