The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued a licence to Louisiana Energy Services (LES) to construct and operate a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant in Lea County, New Mexico.

The proposed $1.5 billion National Enrichment Facility will be the first commercial use of Urenco gas centrifuge enrichment technology in the country and the move marks the first licence issued by the NRC for a full-scale uranium enrichment plant. Under its terms LES is permitted to enrich uranium up to 5% U-235 for use in the manufacture of nuclear fuel for commercial power plants.

Construction of the plant 7km east of Eunice is due to begin in August, with operations commencing in 2008, reaching full capacity in 2013.

LES, a consortium of Urenco, Westinghouse Electric Co, Duke Power, Entergy and Exelon, submitted its application in December 2003.

Meanwhile, French technology major Areva is reportedly expected to finally approve the construction of a uranium enrichment plant at the Tricastin nuclear site, in Drome, southeastern France. The Georges Besse II facility will replace Eurodif, Areva’s uranium enrichment plant in Pierrelatte and will require an investment of some euro 3 billion.

Nuclear generator Electricite de France is understood to be considering investing in the project.