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Worlds 1st Laser Tech-Based Uranium Enrichment Plant

Worlds-1st-Laser-Tech-Based-Uranium-Enrichment-Plant-on-WayGlobal Laser Enrichment (GLE) has completed its licence application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to construct the world’s first uranium enrichment facility based on laser technology.

GLE – a venture launched by GE-Hitachi and in which Cameco has taken a 24 percent stake – submitted the environmental portion of a combined construction and operating license (COL) application to the NRC in January. The NRC had approved the early, partial submittal to add efficiency to its review process. The remaining part of the COL application was submitted recently. The NRC’s estimated 30-month review of the application will officially begin once the commission formally accepts GLE’s application.

Commenting on the application, GLE’s president and CEO Tammy Orr said: “Our goal is to enable an efficient and effective review of our innovative technology by providing a quality, complete application to the NRC.” She added, “Submitting the highest-quality product has been our priority for this significant licensing process milestone.”

GLE has been preparing a test enrichment loop based on the SILEX laser technology – rebadged as Global Laser Enrichment – since mid-2008, with the intention of demonstrating the commercial feasibility of the technology and advancing the design of the necessary equipment, buildings and processes.

GLE said it intends to use its learning from the test loop to make a decision earlier this year on whether to build a full-scale plant.

If GLE go ahead with a full-scale laser enrichment plant, it would be located beside GE-Hitachi’s headquarters at Wilmington in the US state of North Carolina. The capacity of the plant would be between three and six  million separative work units (SWU). It would be one of a handful of new enrichment facilities in the USA, but the only one in the world to use laser excitation to separate uranium-235 from the marginally heavier uranium-238. Other new facilities use centrifuges, while older facilities have used a diffusion process.

In 2006, GE-Hitachi got the exclusive rights to develop and commercialise the SILEX uranium enrichment technology globally through a licence from Australia’s Silex Systems Ltd.

Michael Goldsworthy, CEO of Silex, “This is an important step along the path towards commercialisation of the Silex technology – the only third generation laser-based enrichment process under development today.” He added, “It underscores GLE’s commitment to bringing this exciting technology to market.”