Laser enrichment for Paducah tails?

22 November 2012

The US Department of Energy (DoE) is in preliminary discussions with Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) about establishing a laser enrichment facility at the site of the Paducah gaseous diffusion plant in Kentucky.

GE signed an exclusive commercialization and license agreement with Australia's Silex Systems for the SILEX (Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation) uranium enrichment technology in early 2006. GLE was issued with a construction and operation licence in September for a full-scale laser enrichment facility in Wilmington, North Carolina.

According to Silex Systems, the DoE has started talks with GE-Hitachi (GEH) subsidiary GLE to evaluate the possibility of building another laser enrichment plant at the Paducah site to enrich its stockpiles of high-assay depleted uranium tails. The DoE owns some 100,000 tonnes of such tails, which are stored at Paducah as well as at the shut down Portsmouth diffusion enrichment plant in Ohio.

The DoE has been evaluating opportunities for the Paducah plant after May 2013, when operations at USEC's diffusion plant there are expected to end. These include the possibility of private companies operating the facility as a commercial uranium enrichment facility.

Silex Systems noted, "Access to existing infrastructure at Paducah could realise significant cost savings and reduce the overall time to establish a full-scale laser enrichment plant."

The company said that discussions are currently at an early stage and the proposed plan "is dependent on further detailed analysis."

Silex CEO Michael Goldsworthy commented, "Whilst the key event over the past year was the recent approval by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the licence for the proposed commercial SILEX Laser Enrichment Plant in Wilmington, North Carolina, this is also a welcome development." However, he stressed, "This is a very early stage evaluation of the opportunity."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News