Experimental Uranium Tech Receives $62 Million Boost from U.S.

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Global Security Newswire Staff
Jan. 28, 2014, 8:12 a.m.

A cash-strapped U.S. ef­fort to de­vel­op new urani­um-en­rich­ment tech­no­logy is re­ceiv­ing $62 mil­lion in fed­er­al as­sist­ance, the New York Times re­ports.

The fisc­al 2014 spend­ing bill signed in­to law this month sets aside nuc­le­ar-weapons funds for work on new equip­ment at the USEC’s Amer­ic­an Cent­ri­fuge Plant in Ohio, the news­pa­per re­por­ted on Monday. The do­mest­ic design of the ex­per­i­ment­al ma­chines might someday give them a cru­cial role in man­u­fac­tur­ing tri­ti­um, a hy­dro­gen iso­tope crit­ic­al for boost­ing the ex­plos­ive power of U.S. nuc­le­ar arms.

This month’s om­ni­bus ap­pro­pri­ations le­gis­la­tion also gives the En­ergy De­part­ment an ad­di­tion­al $56 mil­lion that might even­tu­ally go to USEC. The com­pany — the only urani­um-en­rich­ment en­ter­prise headquartered in the United States — in Decem­ber said it planned to file for bank­ruptcy early this year.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion so far has re­jec­ted USEC’s re­quests for a fed­er­ally backed $2 bil­lion loan in sup­port of the cent­ri­fuge ini­ti­at­ive. Such an ar­range­ment would re­quire the gov­ern­ment to as­sume re­spons­ib­il­ity for the ex­pense if the com­pany can­not pay back the bor­rowed funds.

The En­ergy De­part­ment has said USEC must fi­nal­ize ac­quis­i­tion deals for build­ing the new cent­ri­fuges be­fore such fin­an­cial sup­port could be pos­sible, ac­cord­ing to the Times. In ad­di­tion, the firm must con­vince En­ergy De­part­ment of­fi­cials that its equip­ment could op­er­ate for years with al­most no prob­lem.

After po­ten­tially re­ceiv­ing $2 bil­lion un­der a lend­ing plan with Wash­ing­ton, USEC would still have to pull to­geth­er an equal amount from oth­er sources, the news­pa­per said.

The com­pany has ar­gued that its cent­ri­fuges would have an edge over tech­no­logy used by Urenco, a European firm with an en­rich­ment plant in New Mex­ico.

“The Urenco ma­chine is reach­ing the end of its de­vel­op­ment ma­tur­ity in terms of ef­fi­cien­cies and cost,” USEC spokes­man Paul Jac­ob­son told the Times in an e-mail. “In con­trast, the Amer­ic­an Cent­ri­fuge ma­chine is in the early stages of its tech­no­lo­gic­al de­vel­op­ment, value en­gin­eer­ing and cost ef­fi­cien­cies.”

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