Global Laser Enrichment has completed its application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a license to build the world’s first commercial laser-based uranium enrichment facility.
The proposed facility, which would produce a new supply of low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants, would be built in Wilmington, North Carolina.
In the new process, uranium hexafluoride would be vaporised into a gaseous form and exposed to a laser beam that would then preferentially excite the 235UF6 isotope, which would enable a separation of natural uranium into enriched and depleted uranium.
The process, while technically complex, is potentially more efficient than existing second-generation centrifuge enrichment technology.
GLE is implementing a three-phase approach to commercialising the laser enrichment technology: first it will complete a test loop, then construct the initial commercial cascade and finally build a full-scale commercial production facility.
The company will use the information from the test loop in its evaluations of whether or not to proceed with the full-scale commercial facility.
The proposed plant would be co-located with the existing nuclear fuel manufacturing facilities of Global Nuclear Fuel and the new plants and services business of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.
In 2006, GLE acquired the exclusive rights to develop and commercialise the third-generation uranium enrichment technology globally through a license from Silex Systems of Australia. In 2008, Cameco, one of the world’s largest uranium producers, acquired a 24 per cent ownership stake in GLE.