The US Department of Energy (DOE) has said it will open negotiations with Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) for the sale of the depleted uranium hexafluoride inventory and with AREVA for off-specification uranium hexafluoride inventory.

GLE has proposed licensing, constructing, and operating a new laser enrichment facility at the Paducah site. The facility would use lasers conceived by Australian technology company SILEX and developed by GLE experts.

The GLE offer also included the potential lease or use of existing Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant facilities, infrastructure, and utilities. DOE said that the GLE proposal "offered the greatest benefit to the government." It could potentially provide "significant compensation" to the Department for its depleted uranium hexafluoride inventories, as well as supporting US policy interests and utilization of the Paducah site.

In September 2012, GLE received a licence from the US nuclear regulator to construct and operate a uranium enrichment plant using laser technology at its existing site in Wilmington, North Carolina.

A new NRC licence would be required for a facility at Paducah, but tails processing could provide an alternative path for commercialization of a new technology in a difficult market, Thomas Meade and Eileen Supko of Energy Resources International, Inc, said in an enrichment market review earlier this year.

AREVA has offered to utilize its nuclear fuel fabrication facility in Richland, Washington, to process the off-specification uranium hexafluoride as blend stock for US nuclear reactor fuel. AREVA has "well-established technology and licensed operations" for blending this type of material with other uranium feed material, DOE said.

The announcement follows a DOE request for offers for the sale of depleted and off-specification uranium hexafluoride inventories, issued in July 2013. The materials are currently housed at the Paducah, Kentucky, and Portsmouth, Ohio, Gaseous Diffusion Plant facilities.

DOE said "a number of parties" are interested in utilizing the uranium inventories and potentially in using land or facilities at the Paducah site. In 2011 Urenco offered to enrich DOE tails at the Urenco USA plant.


Photo: Cylinders containing uranium hexafluoride (Source: DOE)