DOE in Talks with GLE, AREVA for Depleted Uranium Hexafluoride

The Department of Energy (DOE) last week said it would enter negotiations with Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) for the sale of the depleted uranium hexafluoride inventory after it selected the GE-Hitachi division’s proposal to build and operate a laser enrichment facility at the shuttered Paducah enrichment site in Kentucky.

The DOE will also enter into negotiations with AREVA for the off-specification uranium hexafluoride inventory. The selections represent an “important next step” as the DOE continues planning for potential future uses and ongoing cleanup efforts at the Paducah site, said DOE Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman.

As POWERnews reported this March, GLE submitted a nonbinding proposal to establish an additional uranium enrichment facility at Paducah using Australian firm Silex Systems’ laser technology.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in September 2012 gave GLE a license to operate a previously proposed facility that could be sited on a 1,600-acre tract of land at the company’s global headquarters in Wilmington, N.C., where GLE currently operates a fuel fabrication plant. The license allows GLE to enrich uranium up to 8% by weight in the fissile isotope U-235, using Silex’s Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation (SILEX) technology to produce 6 million single work units (SWU) per year.

According to the DOE, GLE’s proposed facility at Paducah could “could potentially provide significant compensation to the Department for its depleted uranium hexafluoride inventories, as well as supporting U.S. policy interests and utilization of the Paducah site.” GLE’s offer also includes the potential lease or use of existing Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant facilities, infrastructure, and utilities, the DOE said.

AREVA, which responded to the DOE’s July-issued request for offer (RFO), separately from GLE proposed to use its own nuclear fuel fabrication facility in Richland, Wash., to process the off-specification uranium hexafluoride as blend stock for domestic nuclear reactor fuel. “AREVA has well-established technology and licensed operations for blending this type of material with other uranium feed material,” the DOE said.

The DOE issued the RFO earlier this year after an “expression of interest” provided the agency with “confirmation that a number of parties are interested in utilizing the uranium inventories and potentially in using land or facilities at the Paducah site.”

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)