Sole U.S. Uranium Enricher to Pursue Bankruptcy

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Dec. 17, 2013, 8:02 a.m.

The only do­mest­ic U.S. urani­um-en­rich­ment com­pany on Monday said it plans to seek bank­ruptcy with­in months, the New York Times re­ports.

The com­pany, USEC, still plans by 2017 to wrap up de­vel­op­ment of a new-gen­er­a­tion en­rich­ment cent­ri­fuge. However, its latest fin­an­cial move could com­plic­ate ef­forts to se­cure fed­er­al fund­ing for the Amer­ic­an Cent­ri­fuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio, bey­ond $257 mil­lion in En­ergy De­part­ment grants awar­ded since 2011, ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per.

Con­trol of the cent­ri­fuge pro­ject might go to the En­ergy De­part­ment as a res­ult of the bank­ruptcy. It is un­clear, though, if Wash­ing­ton would push the en­rich­ment ini­ti­at­ive for­ward to com­ple­tion, the Times re­por­ted. The ef­fort is already 12 years be­hind sched­ule, and its pro­jec­ted $6.5 bil­lion ex­pense is nearly four times great­er than its ori­gin­al $1.7 bil­lion cost es­tim­ate.

Still, the United States might con­tin­ue ad­van­cing the ef­fort to help en­sure a se­cure sup­ply of tri­ti­um, a hy­dro­gen iso­tope crit­ic­al for boost­ing the ex­plos­ive power of U.S. nuc­le­ar weapons. The ma­ter­i­al de­cays at a reg­u­lar rate, mean­ing that more must be con­tinu­ally har­ves­ted from fuel rods in Ten­ness­ee Val­ley Au­thor­ity power re­act­ors if war­heads are to be main­tained.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and some U.S. law­makers have said  that un­der in­ter­na­tion­al agree­ments, the United States can use only urani­um re­fined with its own tech­no­logy as a source of tri­ti­um. Sev­er­al ana­lysts have con­tested that view, though, ar­guing that the United States could ex­tract tri­ti­um from urani­um en­riched with­in its bor­ders us­ing European-ori­gin equip­ment.

This art­icle was pub­lished in Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire, which is pro­duced in­de­pend­ently by Na­tion­al Journ­al Group un­der con­tract with the Nuc­le­ar Threat Ini­ti­at­ive. NTI is a non­profit, non­par­tis­an group work­ing to re­duce glob­al threats from nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al, and chem­ic­al weapons.

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