Urenco applies to increase US enrichment capacity

28 November 2012

Urenco's Louisiana Energy Services (LES) has submitted a licence amendment request that would allow it to increase annual enrichment capacity at the Urenco USA (UUSA) centrifuge facility to 10 million SWU by 2020.

This is a sizable jump from LES's last most recent plans for the facility which had intended for 5.7 million SWU per year to be online by 2015. At present it is only supplying 2 million SWU as construction work continues on key facilities. The plant began operation in June 2010.

If approved, the expansion would be implemented in three phases and would include the addition of three new separation building modules, an additional cylinder receipt and dispatch building, an increase in storage area, added protection against storm-water run-off and an upgrade to an electrical substation.

The bais for the application is "to satisfy the need for more reliable and economical domestic enriched uranium" which the company notes is strategically important to the country both in terms of national and energy security. In a phone call a spokesperson added that the company was looking for flexibility so that it could respond to evolving market conditions.

At this stage UUSA is the country's only centrifuge enrichment facility. The other major US enrichment facility is USEC's gaseous diffusion plant located at Paducah which has a capacity of 8 million SWU per year. Together these supply some of the US domestic market for enrichment - which requires about 12 million SWU per year - as well as exporting to other countries. Given the economic advantages of centrifuge enrichment the Paducah plant is widely expected to shut down by 2013 as new capacity is brought online.

Several new US enrichment projects are now at various stages of development. USEC continues to make progress on a demonstration cascade of its indigenously developed American Centrifuge technology, although a commercial facility has struggled to obtain a loan guarantee necessary for the project to proceed. Areva received a site licence for the Eagle Rock centrifuge enrichment facility in October 2011. Construction was slated to start in 2012 but has yet to begin. In September this year GE-Hitachi subsidiary Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) received a site licence for a 6 million SWU laser enrichment facility in North Carolina, however the company has yet to indicate whether it will proceed with the project - which would be a first-of-a-kind commercial laser enrichment facility. In November GLE began discussions with the Department of Energy for developing another laser enrichment facility at the existing Paducah plant.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News