General Electric has successfully demonstrated laser enrichment of uranium and expects to make a decision by year end on construction of a Castle Hayne facility to produce the nuclear fuel component.
Silex developed the laser enrichment process which could be two to fifteen times more efficient than centrifuges for uranium enrichment. GE licensed the technology from Silex.
“The achievement of the Test Loop Phase I Milestone – involving advanced technology demonstration – is a key step in the commercialization of the … technology,” Silex CEO Michael Goldsworthy said in a statement.
Silex said the team is “now firmly focused on Phase II, which includes the economic and engineering validation and scale-up for the construction of the initial commercial production module for the world’s first laser enrichment plant.”
GLE spokesman Christopher White said “Phase II” is expected to lead to a decision on building the licensed facility sometime this year.
He added that the government’s decision last week to close the country’s oldest enrichment plant – the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Kentucky – will have no impact on GLE’s decision.
Last November, GLE began talks about developing another laser-enrichment facility at the Paducah plant that is closing.
White stressed this plant would be different than the one proposed for Castle Hayne. The local plant would enrich natural uranium while the Paducah facility would extract natural uranium from tailings, which are waste material from a conventional uranium mill.
Uranium enrichment is one of the most expensive parts of creating nuclear reactor fuel. Laser enrichment could reduce nuclear fuel costs by up to 30%.
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