A first-of-its-kind facility for the laser enrichment of uranium has received a license from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The license authorizes GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) to enrich uranium up to 8 percent by weight in the fissile isotope U-235.
“This is a seminal moment in the history of the nuclear industry,” said Dr. Michael Goldsworthy, CEO of Silex, the Australia-based company that developed the laser technology that will be used. “After more than 40 years of international research and billions of dollars invested by various governments and companies around the world in a race to achieve laser uranium enrichment, Silex and GLE are very proud to be the only successor in this incredibly challenging technological endeavor.”
The global headquarters of GE Hitachi in Wilmington, N.C., employs more than 1500 professionals. The company specializes in boiling water reactor technology.
This low-enriched uranium will be used in fuel for commercial nuclear power reactors. GLE plans to construct the plant at the site of GE-Hitachi’s existing Global Nuclear Fuel-America’s fuel fabrication plant in Wilmington, N.C.
“The technology we’ve developed could be one of the keys to the nation’s long-term energy security,” said Chris Monetta, president and CEO of GLE. “At a minimum, it could provide a steady supply of uranium enriched right here in the US to the country’s nuclear reactors,” which provide about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity.
Currently, most of the enriched uranium made to produce nuclear fuel in the US comes from foreign or government-supplemented sources. The GLE license will allow the production of up to 6 million single work units per year in the US, the company said.
The company said it has worked with the NRC, the US departments of State and Energy, and independent nonproliferation experts for several years to ensure that it met all regulations relevant to safeguarding the technology.
The company’s next step will be to make a decision about commercialization.
The NRC said its staff will conduct inspections during the construction and operation of the facility. The agency plans to hold a public meeting in Wilmington before construction begins to explain its oversight plans to the public.