nuclear fuel cycle corporate partnerships
Exelon, Entergy Sign Letters of Intent with GE-Hitachi for Next-Generation Uranium Enrichment Services
4 October 2007
Exelon and Entergy, two of the US’s largest nuclear utilities, have signed non-binding letters of intent to contract for uranium enrichment services from GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH). GEH is working to develop its next-generation Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) technology to produce enriched uranium for fuel used in commercial nuclear reactors.
The GLE technology is based on a technology known as Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation (SILEX), developed by Silex Systems in Australia. In 2006, GE executed an exclusive worldwide commercialization and license agreement with Silex for the enrichment technology.
In laser isotope separation processes such as SILEX, special tunable lasers are developed which are capable of producing highly monochromatic radiation which can be absorbed by only one of the isotope species, leaving the other isotopes relatively unaffected. The absorption of the laser radiation causes physical or chemical changes to take place, rendering a new state or compound of the target isotope which can now be separated from the unaffected isotope species. The changed or affected isotope species becomes enriched in the desired isotope (the ‘product stream’) and the unaffected species therefore becomes depleted in that isotope (the ‘tails stream’).—Silex Systems
Enrichment—the process through which the concentration of U-235 is increased from 0.7% to up to ~5% for nuclear fuel—accounts for approximately 40% of the cost of nuclear fuel. As uranium prices rise, demand on enrichment efficiency increases—i.e., increasing the level of enrichment to produce lower tails assays decreases the amount of ore consumed.
According to Silex Systems, the laser enrichment technology still under development offers an enrichment efficiency of between 2 to 20 at a potentially attractive price. By contrast, current generation centrifuge enrichment technology has an efficiency of 1.3, and is capital intensive.
Exelon and Entergy are the first companies to sign letters of intent with GEH’s GLE unit. Both utilities are long-time nuclear reactor technology and services customers of both GEH and GNF. As part of the letters of intent, the two utilities also may provide GEH with facility licensing and public acceptance support needed for the development of a commercial-scale, GLE production facility.
GEH has begun preparing its GLE test loop at the nuclear fuel manufacturing facility operated by Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF), a global joint venture owned by GE, Hitachi and Toshiba that is co-located at GEH’s nuclear energy headquarters site in Wilmington, NC.
Before moving ahead with full-scale production plans, GEH will first evaluate results of the testing, select a location for the proposed facility, and obtain an NRC license to build and operate the commercial plant. Site selection and commercial licensing activities are currently underway to support a projected start-up date of 2012.
GEH’s commercial GLE facility would have a target capacity of between 3.5 and 6 million separative work units (SWUs). The SWU is a measure of enrichment plant capacity. The capacity of a typical large gaseous diffusion plant is around 10 million SWU/year, while gas centrifugal plants may be built in modules ranging from 200,000–1,000,000 SWU/year, according to Silex. Worldwide uranium demand and nuclear reactor fuel requirements translate into a requirement for uranium enrichment separative work services in the range 35–38 million SWU/year over the next 10 years.
Illinois-based Exelon operates 10 nuclear stations, with 17 reactors generating approximately 17,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity. It is the third largest nuclear fleet in the world and the largest in the United States, comprising nearly 20% of the nation’s nuclear generating capacity.
New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation subsidiary companies own nine nuclear power plants with 11 reactor units and operate a 12th unit under contract, generating approximately 11,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity and supplying about 13 % of the country’s nuclear generating capacity.
Established in June 2007, GEH is a global nuclear alliance created by GE and Hitachi to serve the global nuclear industry outside Japan.
Locations of Major U.S. Fuel Cycle Facilities
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) currently regulates fuel cycle facilities in Illinois, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington. The following map depicts the locations of these sites, while the table below the map identifies each facility by licensee, location, and type.
|AREVA NP, Inc.
(Mt. Athos Road Facility)
|Lynchburg, VA||Uranium Fuel Fabrication|
|AREVA NP, Inc.||Richland, WA||Uranium Fuel Fabrication|
|BWX Technologies Nuclear Products Division||Lynchburg, VA||Uranium Fuel Fabrication|
|Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas, LLC||Wilmington, NC||Uranium Fuel Fabrication|
|Honeywell International, Inc.||Metropolis, IL||Uranium Hexafluoride Production (Conversion)|
|Louisiana Energy Services (in construction)||Eunice, NM||Gas Centrifuge Uranium Enrichment|
|Shaw AREVA MOX Services , LLC||Aiken, SC||Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication|
|U.S. Enrichment Corporation||Paducah, KY||Gaseous Diffusion Uranium Enrichment|
|U.S. Enrichment Corporation (cold standby)||Piketon, OH||Gaseous Diffusion Uranium Enrichment|
|U.S. Enrichment Corporation (in construction)||Piketon, OH||Gas Centrifuge Uranium Enrichment|
|Westinghouse Electric Company, LLC (Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility)||Columbia, SC||Uranium Fuel Fabrication|