Uranium Conversion/Enrichment - Current Issues (USA)
(last updated 22 Apr 2015)
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> See also Regulatory Issues - USA
Russia's atomic agency Rosatom is in talks to build a uranium enrichment plant in the United States, its chief executive was quoted as saying on Wednesday (Aug. 25).
In an interview with the Financial Times, Sergei Kiriyenko declined to provide details on the U.S. deal.
(Reuters Aug. 25, 2010)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is holding a workshop on February 22, 2008, with stakeholders to seek comment on the proposed quantity thresholds of uranium hexafluoride and uranium tetrafluoride either used for, or derived from, the conversion of uranium oxide to uranium hexafluoride and/or for the deconversion of depleted uranium hexafluoride to an oxide.
> Download NRC announcement Jan. 16, 2008 (ADAMS ML080090098)
USEC signs multi-year contract with Russia's TENEX for low enriched uranium supply
USEC Inc. has signed a multi-year contract with Russia's Techsnabexport (TENEX) for the 10-year supply of low enriched uranium (LEU).
Under the terms of the contract, the supply of LEU to USEC will begin in 2013 and ramp up until it reaches a level in 2015 that is approximately one-half the level currently supplied by TENEX to USEC under the Megatons to Megawatts program with the mutual option to increase the quantities up to the same level as that program. Unlike the Megatons to Megawatts program, the quantities supplied under the new contract will come from Russia's commercial enrichment activities rather than from downblending of excess Russian weapons material.
(USEC Mar. 23, 2011)
Trade deal signed on import of Russian enriched uranium to the U.S.
U.S. nuclear power reactors will be able to obtain more supplies of Russian enriched uranium for fuel, under a trade deal signed by the two countries on Feb. 1, 2008.
The agreement allows Russia to boost exports to the United States while minimizing any disruption to the United States' domestic enrichment industry.
The deal is allowing for sales of Russian enriched uranium directly to U.S. utilities. Before the agreement, such direct transactions were not permitted.
For years, the U.S. government has restricted Russian uranium shipments, fearing Russia would dump uranium in the U.S. market and financially hurt the major American uranium supplier, USEC Inc.
A spokesman for the Russia's Atomic Energy Agency said with the new trade deal "the volumes of direct deliveries of uranium enrichment services may total 20 percent of the market".
(Reuters Feb. 1, 2008)
Federal Register: February 11, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 28) p. 7705-7708
(download full text )
U.S. DOC releases draft agreement allowing for limited uranium imports from Russia
The Department of Commerce and the Russian Federation's Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) have initialed a draft amendment to the Agreement Suspending the Antidumping Investigation on Uranium from the Russian Federation (Suspension
Agreement). The proposed amendment will allow the Russian Federation
to export Russian uranium products to the U.S. market in accordance with the export limits and other terms detailed in the amendment. The Department is now inviting interested parties to comment on the text of the proposed amendment.
Comments must be submitted within thirty (30) days from December 4, 2007.
Federal Register: December 4, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 232) p. 68124-68127
(download full text )
According to the draft agreement, the annual export limits are as follows:
*) calculated, based on LEU product assay of 4.4% and tails assay of 0.3%; conversion loss 0.5%
|Unat contained *)|
| Separative Work contained *)|
The bulk of the deliveries is to start in 2014, when the US-Russia HEU agreement for the deliveries of LEU downblended from Russian nuclear weapons uranium will have ended. As the US-Russia HEU agreement comprises the annual downblending of approx. 29 t HEU into approx. 910 t LEU (at 4.4% assay, containing 5.5 million SWU), the new deliveries will substitute only about half of the annual deliveries made under the US-Russia HEU agreement.
Russia will have sufficient enrichment capacity available from 2011, as the re-enrichment agreements with Urenco and Eurodif expire in 2009-2010, thereby setting free an annual capacity of 2.58 million SWU. In addition, from 2014, no more blendstock enrichment will be required for the downblending of HEU.
It is, however, unclear, where Russia will procure the necessary natural uranium, as Russia's domestic production was just 3400 t U in 2006.
Exports of Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) to the US should not be covered under a Commerce Department-imposed restriction on Russian "uranium products" sent to the US, the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) said September 26, 2007.
In its opinion, the CIT cited a series of cases involving LEU exports to the US by French enricher Eurodif. According to the decisions in those cases, enrichment is a service, rather than a good, and therefore not subject to the relevant US import duties.
The US government, joined by USEC, had initially argued that those decisions
did not apply to the restriction on Russian material. But, as the court
decision put it, the government now "does not oppose a remand" -- a directive to Commerce to rewrite the restriction -- to exclude LEU from the scope of its review. In issuing its remand for "re-determination," the CIT said the government's acknowledgment was "well-founded, because Commerce must abide by the Eurodif decisions."
(Platts Sep. 28, 2007)
> Download Slip Op. 07-143, Techsnabexport v. United States, United States Court of International Trade, Sep. 26, 2007 (PDF)
U.S. ITC votes against Russian uranium imports to U.S.
On July 18, 2006, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) determined that terminating the suspended investigation on imports of uranium from Russia would be likely to lead to continuation or recurrence of material injury within a reasonably foreseeable time.
As a result of the Commission's affirmative determination and the Department of Commerce's recent affirmative finding, the existing suspension agreement will remain in place.
On March 3, 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the U.S. Court of International Trade's 2003 decision regarding subsidies for Eurodif, holding that overpayment for uranium enrichment services by foreign government entities cannot constitute a countervailable subsidy. (U.S. enricher USEC had alleged that French utility EdF had paid Eurodif greater than adequate compensation for the enrichment of uranium.)
> Download March 3, 2005, Court Opinion 04-1209, Eurodif S.A., et al. v. U.S., et al. (PDF)
On February 28, 2005, DOC preliminarily determined that the total countervailable subsidy rate for Urenco for 2003 is 0.00 percent ad valorem.
Federal Register: March 7, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 43) p. 10986-10989
(download full text )
On February 28, 2005, DOC preliminarily determined that the total countervailable subsidy rate for Eurodif/COGEMA for 2003 is 1.23 percent ad valorem.
Federal Register: March 7, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 43) p. 10989-10992
(download full text )
On Feb. 28, 2005, DOC preliminarily determined that a dumping margin of 21.71 percent exists for Eurodif/COGEMA for 2003.
Federal Register: March 7, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 43) p. 10957-10962 (download full text )
On Sep. 29, 2004, DOC amended the final results of the first antidumping duty administrative review of LEU from France, decreasing COGEMA/Eurodif's weighted-average margin from 5.43 percent to 4.56 percent.
Federal Register: September 29, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 188) p. 58128-58129
(download fullt text )
On July 26, 2004, DOC finally determined that a weighted-average dumping margin of 5.43% (rather than 5.34% in the preliminary determination) exists for COGEMA/Eurodif for the period of July 13, 2001, through January 31, 2003.
Federal Register: August 3, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 148) p. 46501-46508
(download full text )
On June 30, 2004, DOC finally determined ad valorem subsidy rates for Eurodif/COGEMA of 3.63 percent ad valorem for 2001, and 0.71 percent ad valorem for 2002.
Federal Register: July 7, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 129) p. 40871-40873 (download full text )
On June 30, 2004, DOC finally determined ad valorem subsidy rates for Urenco Group of 1.57 percent ad valorem for 2001, and 1.47 percent ad valorem for 2002.
Federal Register: July 7, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 129) p. 40869-40871 (download full text )
On January 29, 2004, DOC preliminarily determined that the total estimated net countervailable subsidy rate for Eurodif is 6.54 percent ad valorem for 2001 and 3.03 percent ad valorem for 2002.
Federal Register: February 5, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 24) p. 5502-5505
(download full text )
On January 29, 2004, DOC preliminarily determined that the total estimated net
countervailable subsidy rate for Urenco Group Ltd. is 1.66 percent ad valorem for 2001 and 1.40 percent ad valorem for 2002.
Federal Register: February 5, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 24) p. 5498-5502
(download full text )
On January 20, 2004, Department of Commerce issued a Notice of Preliminary Results of Antidumping Duty Administrative Review, indicating a Weighted-Average Margin for COGEMA/Eurodif of 5.34%.
Federal Register: January 27, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 17) p. 3883-3887 (download full text )
On September 16, 2003, the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) found that DOC's Final Remand Determination of June 23, 2003, is unlawful and reversed it.
> Download United States Court of International Trade Slip Opinion 03-121, USEC Inc. v. United States, 09/16/2003 (PDF)
On Mar. 25, 2003, the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) overturned Department of Commerce (DOC) decisions that the enrichers had violated U.S. trade laws in their sales of enrichment services in the U.S. The court vacated DOC's final determinations to slap duties on Urenco and Cogema SWU sales in the U.S. (Platts, Mar. 25, 2003)
> Download United States Court of International Trade
Slip Opinion 03-34, USEC Inc. v. United States, 03/25/2003 (PDF)
On Jan. 22, 2002, the US International Trade Commission approved 32.10 percent duties on enriched uranium imports from France while it approved 2.23 percent tariffs on enriched uranium from Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands. (AFX Jan. 22, 2002)
> View US ITC vote (Jan. 22, 2002)
On Dec. 14, 2001, the US Commerce Department found that French uranium enrichment company Eurodif, had sold its services in the US at almost 20 per cent below fair market price, but virtually cleared UK-based Urenco Group of dumping in the US market. (Financial Times Dec. 15, 2001)
Federal Register: December 21, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 246):
Federal Register: January 3, 2002 (Vol.67, No.2), p.344-345:
> Import Administration, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
Cameco writes down complete CDN$ 184 million investment in GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC (GLE)
"During the quarter, a decision was made by the majority partner of GLE to significantly reduce funding of the project. As a result, Cameco recognized an impairment charge of $183,615,000, which represents the full amount of Cameco's investment."
(Cameco Oct. 29, 2014)
License application for Paducah Laser Enrichment Facility project to be filed in September 2014
On Jan. 20, 2014, Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) advised the NRC of GLE's intent to prepare a license application for the authority to construct and operate a laser enrichment facility under 10 CFR Part 70. GLE expects to submit the license application for the Paducah Laser Enrichment Facility (PLEF) by September 2014.
DOE selects GLE proposal for re-enrichment of depleted uranium stocks with laser-based uranium enrichment plant to be built at Paducah site
> View here
GE-Hitachi proposes to build laser-based uranium enrichment plant at Paducah site
GE-Hitachi has submitted a proposal for the beleaguered Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant that could help preserve many of the 1,200 jobs there.
The plant had been scheduled to close last year, but a deal reached in May kept it open for another year. It currently is enriching depleted uranium for the Tennessee Valley Authority and for a Washington state utility called Energy Northwest.
The Paducah Sun reports GE-Hitachi is proposing to build a new laser-based uranium enrichment plant at the site.
(AP Feb. 24, 2013)
> See also: DOE request for expressions of interest for Paducah gaseous diffusion enrichment plant facilities and DOE depleted and off-specification UF6 inventories
Silex evaluates opportunity to build laser enrichment plant in Paducah, Kentucky, to re-enrich depleted uranium
On Nov. 20, 2012, Silex Systems Limited confirmed that a preliminary evaluation is being undertaken regarding the potential to build an additional enrichment plant using the SILEX Technology at the site of the existing gaseous diffusion enrichment plant in Paducah Kentucky, USA. The evaluation includes early stage discussions between General Electric-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC (GLE) and the owner of the Paducah facilities, the US Department of Energy (DOE) and is dependent on further detailed analysis.
GLE is proceeding with the evaluation of the opportunity to build a plant utilising the SILEX Technology to enrich 'high assay tails' stockpiles - potentially worth approx. $3 billion after enrichment (based on current price and process assumptions). There are approximately 100,000 metric tons of 'high assay tails' owned by the DOE and stockpiled at its Paducah and Portsmouth (Ohio) facilities. Silex believes that much of this material could be processed with the efficient SILEX enrichment technology to produce either natural assay uranium or enriched uranium for further use as nuclear fuel.
> See also: Compostion of the U.S. DOE Depleted Uranium Inventory (70k PDF)
NRC License No. SUB-526, Docket No. 04003392
Converdyn · Honeywell Metropolis
Aerial view: Google Maps · MSRMaps
NRC Facility Info (Decommissioning)
UF6 production resumes at Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant after three-month outage
On April 13, 2015, ConverDyn announced that UF6 production at the Honeywell Metropolis conversion facility has successfully commenced following an extended three-month maintenance shutdown. The extended shutdown "optimized site resources and aligned UF6 production targets with reduced customer demand."
Goldman Sachs stored uranium ore concentrate at Metropolis conversion plant
> View Goldman Sachs to wind down uranium trading business - after U.S. Senate report sheds some light on it, raising a number of issues
NRC issues Notice of Violation to Honeywell for allowing unqualified operators to perform licensed activities at Metropolis conversion plant
"[...] on January 1, 2014, two operators conducted licensed material activities and were not trained and qualified as specified in the TQD [Training Qualification Description] for an assistant green salt operator. Specifically, an ore preparation operator and an assistant operator conducted green salt drumming operations and were not trained and qualified as assistant green salt operators."
> Download NRC Integrated Inspection Report 40-3392/2014-004 and Notice of Violation, Oct. 28, 2014 (PDF)
Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant shut down after UF6 leak
The Honeywell Plant has confirmed there was a leak of UF6 about 7:35 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 26).
The company issued a news release late Sunday. It read that the "leak has been contained and a trained response team is currently working to ensure the leak has been stopped completely."
Honeywell spokesman Peter Dalpe wrote that "there have been no injuries and there is no indication that any material has left the building."
(WSIL TV Oct. 26, 2014 - emphasis added)
"On October 26, at 8:24 p.m. EST, Honeywell Metropolis Works experienced a leak of UF6 inside the Feed Materials Building (FMB). The initial indication was a chemical alarm near the UF6 cold traps. An operator noticed on the room monitor video screen a haze in the air inside the fourth floor of the FMB. This haze indicated a UF6 leak. The leak occurred during a routine sublimation and draining of a cold trap. Honeywell operators implemented emergency procedures to shut down and evacuate the FMB. Emergency responders reentered the FMB to isolate the cold trap and stop the leak. Honeywell stated that the haze in the FMB was cleared by 8:55 p.m. EST. An 'All Clear' was declared by Honeywell at 3:16 a.m. EST on October 27.
Members of the public outside the plant reported a cloud emanating from the building for five minutes before the mitigation spray towers were activated by Honeywell staff. The plant is currently shut down. No injuries were reported."
(NRC Preliminary Notification PNO-II-14-008, Oct. 27, 2014 - emphasis added)
"A Region II inspector was dispatched to Honeywell on October 27. The inspector has confirmed that a small UF6 leak occurred during heating and draining operations. The UF6 vaporized and interacted with moisture in the FMB [Feed Materials Building] allowing it to convert to UO2F2 (a solid form of uranyl fluoride which is a yellow powder) and HF (hydrogen fluoride gas). The NRC inspector observed and confirmed the UO2F2 deposits were contained in the FMB and were within a two to three foot radius of the leak area. The NRC inspector verified that Honeywell staff implemented their emergency plan by assessing the spill and took immediate actions that included sounding the plant emergency alarm, accounting for all personnel, assembling the emergency response team, assessing the event by characterizing that some HF was visible coming from the top of the building, activating the spray system and directing it towards the FMB windows to prevent any HF from reaching the public, directing operators to don safety gear and re-enter the facility to stop the spill of UF6, isolating and cooling the leaking cold trap (cooling the trap forces the UF6 to solidify), placing a vacuum system in service to capture vaporized UF6, and monitoring fence HF detectors from the fluorine plant control room which indicated no detectable HF at the fence."
(NRC Preliminary Notification PNO-II-14-008A, Oct. 31, 2014 - emphasis added)
"[...] the NRC inspection found that Honeywell did not recognize that the HF released from the FMB warranted an emergency classification of ALERT. Honeywell agreed with the NRC findings and subsequently reported their failure to properly classify the October 26 event to the NRC at 2:04 p.m. EST on November 5 [NRC Event Number 50594]."
(NRC Preliminary Notification PNO-II-14-008B, Nov. 6, 2014 - emphasis added)
"The NRC has concluded the implemented actions provide high confidence Honeywell will properly assess any future events in accordance with the requirements of the emergency plan and has authorized restart of the Honeywell facility."
(NRC Preliminary Notification PNO-II-14-008C, Nov. 13, 2014 - emphasis added)
"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has issued a notice of violation to the Honeywell facility in Metropolis, Ill. for the failure to declare an Alert and properly notify the NRC in response to a uranium hexafluoride leak that occurred on October 26, 2014."
(NRC News Release Apr. 21, 2015 - emphasis added)
"[...] when the drum lid was being removed at the ConverDyn facility weighing and sampling plant, as the drum lid bolts were being removed, the lid of the drum buckled and U3O8 concentrates escaped the drum and spread in an approximately six foot radius around the drum in the sampling plant area."
(Uranium One email to NRC, Sep. 10, 2014)
> See also current issues Willow Creek (Wyoming)
NRC steps up supervision of Metropolis conversion plant in view of worker lockout
A lockout of about 135 union employees at a Honeywell International Inc uranium conversion plant in Illinois is poised to extend past a month as the two sides remain apart on several issues.
Production and maintenance employees at the Metropolis, Illinois, plant who are members of United Steelworkers Local 7-669 have been locked out since the start of August, after a three-year contract expired.
Honeywell has continued to operate the plant after the lockout, with the remaining roughly 135 plant employees who are non-union, as well as with contingent workers.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has taken more precautions since the lockout began, including continuously staffing the plant during the first 72 hours and increasing safety inspections to once a week from the typical schedule of about once a month.
No "significant issues" have been found, but the NRC will continue the stepped-up inspection schedule until the work stoppage is resolved or the agency is satisfied the plant can operate long-term without any issues, said NRC spokesman Roger Hannah.
(Reuters Aug. 25, 2014)
Comment invited on renewal of RCRA hazardous waste management permit for Metropolis conversion plant
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and U. S. EPA hereby give notice of intent to renew a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permit held by Honeywell International, Inc. at 2768 North US 45 Road, 1.5 miles north of Metropolis, Illinois. Honeywell manages hazardous wastes generated by its facility's industrial processes in containers and surface impoundments under its existing RCRA permit; the draft permit renewal contains no significant changes to currently permitted activities.
Submit written comment and/or request public hearing by September 28, 2013.
> Download Public Notice Aug. 14, 2013 (PDF - IEPA)
NRC authorizes Metropolis conversion plant to resume operations after upgrades
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has determined that the company may resume all NRC-licensed activities.
In October 2012, the NRC issued a confirmatory order to Honeywell describing the steps the company would have to take before it could resume its uranium conversion operations. That order came after inspections earlier in 2012 identified concerns related to the likelihood of a release of uranium hexafluoride following an earthquake or tornado.
The plant has been shut down since May 2012 and the company has been enhancing and modifying equipment to meet the requirements of that order. In June, the NRC allowed the plant to begin limited operations, but today's decision authorizes operation of all of the plant processes covered by its NRC license.
> Download NRC release July 2, 2013 (PDF)
NRC issues Confirmatory Order to Honeywell on hardening of Metropolis conversion plant against seismic and wind events
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a Confirmatory Order to Honeywell International, Inc., outlining actions the company must take before it can resume its uranium conversion operations at the Honeywell Metropolis Works facility.
The facility has been shut down since May 9.
During an inspection in May that examined how the facility would fare in a major earthquake or a tornado, the NRC concluded that such an event could result in a higher risk to the public than originally assumed. The inspection identified that process equipment in the facility lacks seismic restraints, support and bracing that would assure integrity during a significant seismic or wind event. Specifically, the amount of uranium hexafluoride that could be released into the environment should the process equipment be damaged by such an event could be significantly larger than assumed in the facility's Emergency Response Plan.
> Download NRC release Oct. 16, 2012 (PDF)
> Federal Register Volume 77, Number 205 (Tuesday, October 23, 2012) p. 64831-64834 (download full text )
> Download Confirmatory Order (ADAMS Acc. No. ML12289A800)
Safety upgrades that have kept a Metropolis uranium conversion plant closed since May have begun, and the facility will reopen production in June 2013.
(The Southern Nov. 2, 2012)
NRC issues Notice of Violation to Honeywell for failures that lead to two releases of UF6 at Metropolis conversion plant
On July 30, 2012, NRC issued a Notice of Violation to Honeywell for failures that lead to two releases of uranium hexafluoride:
"[...] on May 14 and on May 30, 2012, the licensee failed to govern the
use of and adherence to written procedures. On May 14, an operator failed to adhere to
the requirements of written procedure MTW-SOP-CYL-0701, ''Washing UF6 Cylinders,'' which resulted in a UF6 release in the area of the cylinder wash facility. On May 30, the licensee failed to adhere to the requirements of written procedure MTW-SOP-DIS-0203, ''Sampling Suspect Cylinders and Maintaining the Sample Vacuum System,'' which resulted in a UF6 release in the distillation area of the Feed Materials Building. [...]"
Production shutdown at Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant extended for seismic inspections
On June 25, 2012, Honeywell International Inc. announced that it has extended the annual production shutdown at the Metropolis Works conversion plant from the previously scheduled completion date of early July 2012. This action is being taken to continue consultations with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding post-Fukushima seismic inspections and possible modifications required at Metropolis Works.
Estimated time for restarting operations will be determined after consultations with the NRC.
On July 11, 2012, Honeywell International Inc. announced that it will not restart production at the facility until reaching agreement with the Commission on the necessary upgrade projects and timing. Completion of upgrades to the Metropolis Works facility could take approximately 12 to 15 months.
On July 13, 2012, NRC issued a related confirmatory action letter to Honeywell.
> Download NRC release July 13, 2012 .
NRC issues Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for revised dose calculations at Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant
> Federal Register Volume 77, Number 97 (Friday, May 18, 2012) p. 29697-29700 (download full text )
Operation of Honeywell Metropolis uranium conversion plant halted for unplanned repairs
Production of nuclear fuel at the Honeywell International uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill., was halted last week, after the company found damage to equipment during a routine inspection.
Spokesman Peter Dalpe said he can't comment on the specific damage, but added that the equipment was not operational.
(Chicago Tribune May 15, 2012)
NRC once again identifies multiple violations at Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant
During inspections conducted from July 1, 2011 through September 30, 2011, NRC found six license violations at the Honeywell Specialty Chemicals facility.
(NRC Inspection Report No. 40-3392/2011-004 and Notice of Violation, October 28, 2011)
- Two examples of a violation of NRC's requirements were identified which include failure to establish additional warning devices or barriers and postings in an area where an individual could receive a deep dose equivalent, exceeding 50 mRem [0.5 mSv] in one hour at a distance of 30 centimeters, and failure to post and control a High Radiation Area where an individual could receive a deep dose equivalent exceeding 100 mRem [1 mSv] in one hour at a distance of 30 centimeters.
- Three violations were identified during a fire inspection.
- A violation was identified for workers pulling respirators away from face in order to
communicate in a red light lit area signifying a posted airborne area.
NRC denies selfguarantee of decommissioning funding for Honeywell Metropolis uranium conversion plant
On Dec. 11, 2009, NRC Staff denied an exemption request by Honeywell for selfguarantee of decommissioning funding for its Metropolis Works.
Honeywell appealed the NRC decision, but NRC Staff denied the exemption request again in a letter dated April 25, 2011.
On June 22, 2011, Honeywell requested a hearing on the NRC's 2011 decision to deny the exemption request.
On Feb. 29, 2012, an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued LBP-12-06, denying the exemption request.
On March 22, 2012, Honeywell petitioned that decision for review.
On Jan. 9, 2013, the NRC issued Memorandum and Order CLI-13-01, affirming the denial of the requested exemption.
NRC issues notice of availability of environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact for closure of calcium fluoride ponds at Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant
> Federal Register Volume 78, Number 188 (Friday, September 27, 2013)
p. 59731-59732 (download full text )
> Download Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact
> Access Docket ID NRC-2011-0143
EPA opposes approval of calcium fluoride pond closure project at Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant, requests preparation of EIS
"U.S. EPA strongly encourages NRC not to issue a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) until the remaining issues are resolved. U.S. EPA believes a FONSI based on the provided draft EA is not appropriate at this time. [...] Moreover, because of the potential for significant impacts to public health and the environment and the degree to which effects on the quality of the human environment are likely to be highly controversial, U.S. EPA believes that NRC should consider preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement to inform its decommissioning decision."
(EPA letter to NRC May 30, 2013)
NRC issues Notice of license amendment request and opportunity to request a hearing on calcium fluoride pond closure project at Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant
Requests for a hearing must be filed by September 6, 2011.
Federal Register: July 7, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 130) p. 39918-39922 (download full text )
Honeywell pays US$ 12 million fine for illegal waste storage at Metropolis conversion plant
On March 11, 2011, Honeywell announced that it has resolved a U.S. government investigation into permitting and storage issues at its Metropolis, Ill., facility.
As part of a plea agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the company will pay a total of $12 million in fines and supplemental environmental projects to resolve the matter, which involved the storage of a regulated material without a proper permit.
Residents concerned about Honeywell's plan to close old calcium fluoride ponds at Metropolis conversion plant by in situ cementation
The plan has outraged several people in Southern Illinois, as they are concerned about the possibility of the ponds leaking and creating a disaster in the region.
"It is a concern; (the waste) is there," said Mike Riley, a former longtime Honeywell employee who is now the USW's health and local safety representative. "I don't see how putting concrete with it is going to get rid of the problem."
In 2000, an EPA report on stabilization and solidification projects at badly polluted sites across the country found that concentrations of toxins at those sites were reduced enough to generally meet government standards.
Unfortunately, the EPA also noted in the same report that the long-term effectiveness of solidification and stabilization is unknown.
The EPA quoted various studies showing that "cement-based stabilized wastes are vulnerable to the same physical and chemical degradation processes as concrete and other cement-based materials," which means they have the "potential to disintegrate over a period of 50 to 100 years."
That timeframe is what concerns Metropolis Mayor Billy McDaniel.
"I want it where, 50 years from now in our community, we don't have an issue at Honeywell or at any other plant, that could be taking lives or having babies born with deformities," McDaniel said. "We want things done right, and in the right way, the first time."
(The Southern Jan. 23, 2011)
> Download: Solidification/Stabilization Use at Superfund Sites , EPA-542-R00-010, U.S. EPA, September 2000, 23 p. (Enter search term: 542R00010)
Honeywell submits decommissioning plan for closure of old calcium fluoride ponds at Metropolis conversion plant
On December 2, 2010, Honeywell submitted a decommissioning plan related to closure of existing surface impoundments at the Metropolis Works facility.
Honeywell submits license amendment request for closure of old calcium fluoride ponds at Metropolis conversion plant by in situ cementation
"Honeywell International, Inc. is the holder of Source Materials License No. SUB-526 (NRC License), a 10 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 40 license last renewed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 2007. Under this license, the licensee operates its Honeywell Metropolis Works, Inc. (MTW) formerly ''Allied Signal'' (Allied) plant at Metropolis, Illinois, where it converts uranium ore concentrates to uranium hexafluoride (UF6) by the ''fluoride volatility process.''"
"This license amendment request relates to an area of the MTW site known as the CaF2 Pond Area, where MTW formerly precipitated calcium fluoride (CaF2). The CaF2 Pond Area includes four surface impoundments known as Ponds B, C, D, and E. Pond A was closed in 2001 and the CaF2 materials removed from the site.
Ponds B, C, D, and E were constructed from 1974 through 1979 and currently store CaF2 materials which contain trace amounts of natural radioactive isotopes including, but not limited to uranium and thorium. This material was generated prior to 1982 when MTW used a fluoride removal process that involved use of calcium hydroxide to precipitate calcium fluoride in the ponds. The installation of a CaF2 recovery system in 1982 curtailed the use of the ponds for calcium fluoride precipitation. Currently, no material is discharged to Ponds B, C and E, and Pond D only receives flow from MTW's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitted wastewater treatment system prior to discharge at permitted Outfall 002.
MTW is required by its RCRA permit to close Ponds B, C, D and E by 2020. As part of the closure process, MTW has submitted to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) an application to modify MTW's RCRA permit to close the ponds in place using in situ sludge stabilization with a pozzolanic cement material, construction of an engineered cap and long-term maintenance." [emphasis added]
The four ponds cover a combined surface area of 23,900 square metres and contain a combined volume of 88,100 cubic yards [67,357 cubic metres] of CaF2 sludge.
The uranium concentration in the sludge is in the 200 - 300 ppm U (0.02 - 0.03% U) range, so the total uranium contents is approximately in the 20 - 30 t U range. [The uranium concentration is higher than that found in several uranium deposits currently being developed for mining in Namibia, such as Trekkopje, Valencia, and Etango.]
> Download Honeywell Presentation Oct. 5, 2010 (278k PDF)
> Download: License Amendment Request Report, US NRC License Number SUB-526, Closure of Surface Impoundment Ponds B, C, D, and E, Honeywell International, Inc., Metropolis Works, Metropolis, IL, Nov. 22, 2010:
Authorities investigate compliance of storage of sludges generated by Metropolis conversion plant (Illinois)
The United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Justice ("federal authorities") are investigating whether the storage of certain sludges generated during uranium hexafluoride production at our Metropolis, Illinois facility has been in compliance with the requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The federal authorities have convened a grand jury in this matter.
(Honeywell International Inc., Quarterly Report 10-Q, April 23, 2010)
Hydrofluoric acid leak at Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant
"At around 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Metropolis plant experienced a leak of hydrofluoric acid at its tank farm. The plant sounded its emergency siren and activated its emergency response procedures as a precaution. The release was immediately contained by the plant's water mitigation system and a team immediately began working to stop the leak. The leak was stopped before 5 p.m. local time.
At this point, there are no indications of off-site impact from the release and it did not involve any radioactive materials. All on-site personnel were accounted for and there were no injuries."
(from the Honeywell official statement, according to WPSD Local 6 Dec. 22, 2010)
The United Steelworkers (USW) today (Dec. 23) has again sounded the alarm over concerns to the community about observations and reports on plume leakages yesterday (Wed. Dec. 22) at the Honeywell uranium conversion facility that is involved in a five-month-old labor dispute.
According to news reports, the plume leak occurred at approximately 3 p.m. (CT).
USW pickets outside the Honeywell facility noticed a large plume from the hydrofluoric acid (HF) storage area. The plant's mitigation towers, which spray water to knock down any escaping gas, were turned on and sirens sounded. The towers sprayed for approximately an hour and a half. The emergency siren was turned on, then immediately off, and then later on again.
USW Local 7-669 President Darrell Lillie said, "We have been warning everyone for months that there is the possibility of a fatality and major breach of public safety at this plant. The workers in the plant do not have the experience it takes to safely run this facility."
Honeywell has been running the plant with replacement workers since locking out the union workforce of 228 on Jun. 28. The plant has been recently cited for violations by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and is under a separate investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) concerning improper storage of potassium hydroxide.
"The community should be outraged at the way the facility is being operated and their safety at risk, and demand that someone take action before this becomes the present day Katrina," Lillie said.
According to the USW local union leader, Honeywell issued a statement that claimed the plume was a "small release" of hydrofluoric acid. However, the experienced union workers from the plant, who are on the picket lines, could do nothing but watch with skepticism that a so-called "small" release doesn't require the mitigation towers to run for more than an hour.
(United Steelworkers (USW) Dec. 23, 2010)
> Download NRC Preliminary Notification PNO-II-10-005 , Dec. 23, 2010 (PDF)
> Download Communities at Risk? Potential Hazards in Metropolis, IL and Paducah, KY from the Honeywell Lockout, Jan. 18, 2011 (6.3MB PDF - United Steelworkers)
OSHA proposes $119,000 in fines to Honeywell for HF release at Metropolis conversion plant:
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Honeywell International Inc. with 17 serious safety violations for process safety management violations after its Metropolis processing plant experienced a release of hydrogen fluoride vapor. Proposed penalties total $119,000.
The incident occurred on Dec. 22, 2010. There were no reported injuries as a result of the incident, which was rectified by the company's internal response team.
An inspection was initiated under OSHA's national emphasis program on facilities that could potentially release hazardous chemicals. Violations include
The company also was cited for a deficient incident report that did not include factors contributing to the vapor release and the recommendation resulting from the internal investigation.
(West Kentucky Star Jun. 22, 2011)
- allowing cylinders to be exposed to physical damage;
- having inaccurate field verifications on tanks and values;
- using equipment that was not in compliance with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices;
- failing to have clear written operating instructions for processes such as unloading hydrogen fluoride into storage tanks and switching storage tanks;
- failing to address human factors in relation to remote operating valves on the hydrogen fluoride storage tanks;
- failing to document and resolve issues addressed by the process hazard analysis team;
- failing to establish written procedures to maintain the integrity of process equipment;
- failing to implement written emergency operating procedures for emptying hydrogen fluoride tanks;
- failing to perform appropriate checks and inspections to ensure equipment was properly installed; and
- failing to establish and implement written procedures to manage changes to process chemicals, equipment and procedures.
NRC identifies multiple violations at Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant
- The first violation is for the failure to provide the Total Effective Dose Equivalent (TEDE) for public dose assessments:
As of June 11, 2010, the licensee had not included the liquid effluent or external dose components of the total effective dose equivalent in the public dose analysis but had characterized the airborne effluent dose analysis as the total public dose analysis.
- the second violation is for the failure to properly conduct investigations for process stack exceedances:
Beginning in January 2009, the licensee routinely identified dust collector stack samples which were above the investigation limits for three successive samples and failed to initiate an investigation to identify the source and required corrective actions.
- the third violation is for the failure to properly protect the security of training test materials along with the failure to prevent coaching during on-the-job evaluations.
> Download NRC Inspection Report No. 40-3392/2010-002 and Notice of Violation, Nov. 10, 2010 (ADAMS Acc. No. ML103140705)
Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant in partial shutdown for bargaining unit lock-out
On June 28, 2010, at 6:30 p.m. CDT, plant management locked out the bargaining unit workers represented by the United Steelworkers of America (Local 7-669) after ongoing contract negotiations failed to reach an agreement.
The licensee had placed the plant in a safe partial shutdown before the lockout. A combination of management, engineers, and trained temporary workers continue to operate ore preparation and green salt processes while fluorination and distillation systems remain in cold shutdown. No incidents were reported during implementation of the lockout.
> Download NRC Preliminary Notification PNO-II-10-003, June 29, 2010 (PDF)
NRC issues Notice of Violation to Honeywell for not reporting 37 (!) contamination events at Metropolis conversion plant
On June 12, 2009, NRC issued a Notice of Violation to Honeywell for not reporting 37 unplanned contamination events identified between the period of October 17, 2008, and
March 29, 2009, at the Metropolis conversion plant. (ADAMS Acc. No. ML091630570)
NRC approves new small cylinder filling process at Metropolis conversion plant (Illinois)
On Jan. 13, 2009, NRC approved a new process of filling small uranium hexafluoride (UF6) cylinders, 12B and 30B, using the UF6 Continuous Sampling System.
Converdyn reportedly plans to nearly double capacity of its Metropolis conversion plant (Illinois)
"Ideally by 2020 we will be producing an optimum of 23,000 tonnes and a maximum would be 26,000 [tonnes]," ConverDyn CEO James Graham told Reuters this week. In 2007, the maximum output of the Metropolis facility was 15,000 tonnes UF6, according to Graham. (Tradetech Jan. 18, 2008)
Converdyn announces capacity increase at Metropolis conversion plant
On June 18, 2007, Converdyn announced that, after the installation of new equipment, the nameplate annual capacity of the Metropolis uranium conversion now is 17,600 MTU as UF6 (up from 14,000).
The next level of planned expansion is to 18,000 MTU as UF6 in the 2012 timeframe or when market conditions dictate the need.
Proposed License Renewal for Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant
A 10-year license renewal was issued on May 15, 2007.
On Aug. 4, 2006, NRC issued a Notice of Availability of Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for Renewal of the Operating License for the
Honeywell Metropolis Works Uranium Conversion Facility in Metropolis, IL.
Federal Register: August 10, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 154) p. 45862-45864 (download full text )
On Feb. 10, 2006, NRC issued a draft environmental assessment for the proposed license renewal of the Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant.
> Download ML060400180 (NRC ADAMS)
Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant shut down after UF6 leak
Illinois EPA files lawsuit against Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant for UF6 leakages
On December 30, 2004, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) filed a lawsuit filed against the Metropolis Works Conversion Facility (MTW) . The
complaint charges Honeywell International with air pollution for the September and December 2003 incidents
that occurred at MTW. The complaint charges that “Honeywell subjected its workers and its neighbors not
once, but twice, to dangerous levels of hazardous materials” and that the state is “working to ensure that
corrective measures have been taken to minimize the possibility that these alleged employee mistakes will occur
again”. The suit seeks a civil penalty of $50,000 per violation and an additional $10,000 for each day the
(Converdyn Jan. 6, 2005)
NRC cites Honeywell Metropolis uranium conversion plant for violations
After a thorough review, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has determined that two violations of NRC requirements occurred as a result of the uranium hexafluoride release at the Honeywell plant in Metropolis, Illinois, in late December 2003.
NRC inspectors found that Honeywell employees reconfigured the fluorination system without detailed instructions which allowed the leak to occur. During the event, the company also failed to implement some parts of its emergency response plan and did not provide sufficient information to local emergency responders.
> View NRC release May 11, 2004
NRC approves restart of Honeywell Metropolis uranium conversion plant (Illinois)
> View NRC releases: Mar. 27, 2004 · Apr. 14, 2004 · Apr. 17, 2004
Converdyn uranium conversion plant to resume operation after 3-month outage due to leakage
The Metropolis conversion facility is scheduled to restart operations during the week of 22 March 2004, according to ConverDyn. In a phased restart, front-end uranium hexafluoride (UF6) operations will begin first, followed by the restart of the remaining stages of the process, to be completed during the week of 29 March. The first full cylinders of UF6 are expected to become available during the week of 5 April. (WNA News Briefing 04.11, March 16, 2004)
UF6 leak at Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant entails another plant shutdown
"At approximately 2:24 a.m. (CST) there was a uranium hexafluoride (UF6) leak from a valve in their chemical process. The release was confirmed to have been terminated at approximately 3:20 a.m. (CST). Uranium hexafluoride is a hazardous chemical with low level radioactivity associated with the uranium component of the chemical.
Honeywell declared a site area emergency at 3:00 a.m. (CST). Fence line monitors indicated the possibility of a material release offsite. Local authorities evacuated approximately 25 people near the plant and approximately 75 people remained sheltered in their homes. Three individuals were taken to the hospital.
Two of these individuals have been released. There were no injuries onsite. [...]" (NRC PNO-II-03-022, Dec. 22, 2003)
The NRC dispatched inspectors to the plant. In a Confirmatory Action Letter, NRC ordered Honeywell to shutdown the plant and perform an own investigation into the event. (NRC Release II-03-052 , Dec. 23, 2003)
In its Inspection Report dated March 16, 2004, NRC identified two apparent license violations: the failure to have a procedure for the evolution
of bringing two fluorinators online for dual operation, and the failures to properly maintain and implement aspects of the Radiological Contingency Plan.
> Download NRC Inspection Report (March 16, 2004) (PDF)
Converdyn uranium conversion plant shut down for incidents
Converdyn uranium conversion plant resumes operation
ConverDyn's Metropolis conversion facility resumed the production of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) on 18 November 2003, the company announced. Production will gradually increase and normal output rates are expected by mid-December. The facility has undergone significant repairs, retraining and a recertification programme due to recent incidents at the plant.
(WNA News Briefing 03.47, Nov. 25, 2003)
Converdyn uranium conversion plant shut down for incidents
ConverDyn's Metropolis conversion facility experienced two unrelated plant incidents on 20 September, 2003, that have led to the temporary shutdown of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) production at the site. The plant is expected to restart in early October. (WNA News Briefing 03.38, Sep. 24, 2003)
The incidents included: a hydrofluoric acid (HF) spill on Sep. 9, 2003, an antimony pentafloride (SbF5) release on Sep. 12, 2003, and an uranium hexafluoride (UF6) release from a cylinder pigtail on Sep. 30, 2003. Those incidents were subject to an NRC Inspection Report and Notice of Violation dated Dec. 17, 2003.
NRC accepts blending of CaF2 waste to meet release criteria
By letter dated Sep 14, 2001, the NRC accepted a proposal by Honeywell to blend its calcium fluoride settling pond waste with natural fluorspar (CaF2) to meet the uranium concentration criterion of 212 pCi/g (7.84 Bq/g; 313 ppm) for the unrestricted release of the material. The blended material is to be trucked to Hastie Trucking & Mining Company in Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, where it is to be manufactured into a fluorspar briquette for use as a fluxing agent in the steel industry. This arrangement evades the necessity to dump the waste material in a Texas landfill.
Missing shipment of uranium hexafluoride conversion waste
"MISSING SHIPMENT OF CaF SETTLING POND CLEANUP WASTE
A shipment of CaF settling pond waste left the site on July 25, 2001 and apparently did not arrive on July 27, 2001 at the Andrews County WCS in Texas. The shipment, one of several, consisted of 44,480 pounds [20.2 metric tonnes] of 80% CaF and 20% lime with less than 500 ppm natural uranium contained in it. The natural uranium is calculated at about 19 pounds [8.6 kg] total contained in the shipment. The driver reported that the shipment was delivered, but there is no paperwork to support the delivery. [...]
* * * UPDATE ON 8/23/01 @ 1425 BY ROBERTS TO GOULD * * *
Wills Trucking found the material intact on the ground on 8/22/01 north of Dallas, Tx. [...]."
(NRC Daily Event Report Aug. 24, 2001 )
NRC Docket No. 07007016
NRC License No.
> View GE Laser Enrichment Facility Licensing (NRC)
Test Loop Program Phase I Milestone completed at GE-Hitachi laser isotope separation enrichment demonstration facility in Wilmington (North Carolina):
On May 21, 2013, Silex Systems Limited announced that the Test Loop Program Phase I Milestone: Technology Demonstration, has been successfully completed at GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment's facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA.
NRC fines GE-Hitachi $45,000 for multiple security violations at laser isotope separation enrichment demonstration facility in Wilmington (North Carolina):
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has fined GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy $45,000 for multiple security violations at a North Carolina facility using classified technology to test whether lasers can be used to enrich uranium.
A redacted copy of an NRC violation letter provided to The Associated Press on Thursday (Oct. 20) following a Freedom of Information Act request said investigators identified five violations including "a significant lack of management attention." Details of the violations described by the letter were blacked out by nuclear regulators before it was released to The AP. While some violations were "willful," "no actual consequences resulted," the NRC said.
The violations involved a contractor's employee working at the GE-Hitachi's Global Nuclear Fuels facility near Wilmington, where the company is using top-secret technology to find out whether lasers can effectively enrich uranium instead of costlier centrifuges, company spokesman Christopher White said.
(Boston Globe Oct. 20, 2011)
> Download FOIA/PA request 2011-0300, July 19, 2011
On July 30, 2009, Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) announced the start-up of a "test loop" to evaluate a next-generation uranium enrichment technology that GLE is developing.
The test loop is designed to validate the commercial feasibility of the technology and advance the design of the equipment, facility and processes for the planned commercial production facility.
GLE anticipates gleaning sufficient data from the test loop by the end of 2009 to decide whether to proceed with plans for a full-scale commercial enrichment facility.
On June 20, 2008, Cameco Corporation announced it is joining a uranium enrichment business venture in the United States.
Cameco has finalized an agreement with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) whereby a Cameco subsidiary will provide $123.8 million (US) to acquire a 24% interest in Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) based in Wilmington, North Carolina. The remainder of GLE is owned indirectly by General Electric Company (51%) and Hitachi Ltd. (25%).
On May 14, 2008, Global Laser Enrichment (GLE), a subsidiary of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), announced that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved a license amendment (to an existing nuclear facility license) to operate a Test Loop for GLE's next generation, SILEX laser-enrichment technology.
Demonstration Facility to be sited at Global Nuclear Fuels in Wilmington, NC
Letter of Intent submitted on October 11, 2006
Current application submittal date for demonstation facility: mid-2007
> View background information
NRC Docket No. 07007016
NRC License No. SNM-2019
> View GE Laser Enrichment Facility Licensing (NRC)
> Aerial View: Google Maps · MSRMaps
GE Hitachi slows construction of Wilmington laser enrichment plant down due to market conditions
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy's Global Laser Enrichment announced plans late Wednesday (July 23) night to suspend work on development of technology done at its facility in Wilmington, which will apparently impact about two dozen workers in the area.
In an email statement, a GLE official said "most contractor-based work on the project will be suspended", and later added that approximately two dozen contractors in Wilmington "support the project".
The statement released Wednesday night said GLE "plans to pace development of the technology in alignment with market conditions".
(WECT July 24, 2014)
President of German Physical Society warns from proliferation risk of planned laser enrichment plant in North Carolina
Prof. Wolfgang Sandner, president of Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft e.V. , warns from the proliferation risk of the GE-Hitachi laser enrichment plant in Wilmington, North Carolina.
(Spektrum der Wissenschaft Oct. 18, 2012)
NRC issues license for GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC facility in Wilmington, North Carolina
> Download NRC release Sep. 25, 2012 (PDF)
> Download License SNM-2019 (PDF)
NRC issues draft license for proposed GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC facility in Wilmington, North Carolina
> Download draft license SNM-2019 (Sep. 20, 2012)
NRC issues Final Safety Evaluation Report and Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC facility in Wilmington, North Carolina
> Download NRC news release Feb. 29, 2012 (PDF)
> Federal Register Volume 77, Number 49 (Tuesday, March 13, 2012) p. 14838-14839 (download full text )
> Download Safety Evaluation Report for the General Electric-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC Laser-Based Uranium Enrichment Plant in Wilmington, North Carolina, NUREG-2120 , Feb. 29, 2012 (2.5MB PDF)
> Federal Register Volume 77, Number 44 (Tuesday, March 6, 2012) p. 13367-13368 (download full text )
> Download Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment, LLC Facility in Wilmington, North Carolina - Final Report (NUREG-1938) , Feb. 28, 2012
> View Docket ID NRC-2009-0157 (regulations.gov)
Critics demand assessment of proliferation risks of laser enrichment
In a little-known effort, General Electric has successfully tested laser enrichment for two years and is seeking federal permission to build a $1 billion plant that would make reactor fuel by the ton.
That might be good news for the nuclear industry. But critics fear that if the work succeeds and the secret gets out, rogue states and terrorists could make bomb fuel in much smaller plants that are difficult to detect.
Iran has already succeeded with laser enrichment in the lab, and nuclear scientists worry that GE's accomplishment might inspire Tehran to build a plant easily hidden from the world's eyes.
Backers of the laser plan call those fears unwarranted and praise the technology as a windfall for a world increasingly leery of fossil fuels that produce greenhouse gases.
But critics want a detailed risk assessment. Recently, they petitioned Washington for a formal evaluation of whether the laser initiative could backfire and speed the global spread of nuclear arms.
"We're on the verge of a new route to the bomb," said Frank N. von Hippel, a nuclear physicist who advised President Clinton and now teaches at Princeton University. "We should have learned enough by now to do an assessment before we let this kind of thing out."
(Boston Globe Aug. 21, 2011)
NRC issues Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC facility in Wilmington, North Carolina for comment
Comments will be accepted until August 9, 2010.
> View NRC release June 24, 2010
Federal Register: June 25, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 122) p. 36447-36449
(download full text )
> Download Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC Facility in Wilmington, North Carolina (NUREG-1938, Draft for Comment)
> View Docket ID NRC-2009-0157 (regulations.gov)
Proliferation risks from laser enrichment technology exceed benefits, scientists say
The US Congress should take the lead on discouraging efforts to advance uranium-enrichment technology, argue Francis Slakey and Linda R. Cohen in an Opinion piece in this week's Nature. They believe that the newest laser enrichment technology - called separation of isotopes by laser excitation (SILEX) - offers more potential risks than benefits. It is not critical for expansion of the nuclear power industry today, or in a future where greenhouse-gas emissions are tightly capped and the nuclear industry favoured. Capital costs and regulatory policies will determine the size of that industry. "Rather, the development and potential risk of misappropriation of an enrichment facility too small and efficient to be detected could be a game changer for further nuclear proliferation," say the duo.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is considering an application to operate a full-scale commercial SILEX plant in North Carolina; this is open to public petition until 15 March. A final decision is expected to take at least another year. Slakey and Cohen urge Congress to require that proliferation risks be evaluated as part of the NRC licensing process, starting with the SILEX application. If the proliferation risks of such technologies beyond the licensee's control are deemed too high, requested users should not be licensed, they say. Such a barrier would discourage commercial research and development in this area.
Opinion: Stop laser uranium enrichment, by Francis Slakey and Linda R. Cohen, in: NATURE Vol.464 No.7285, 4 March 2010, pp 32-33
NRC releases Environmental Report Supplement 2 for GE Hitachi laser isotope separation enrichment plant project
Federal Register: March 2, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 40) p. 9451-9452 (download full text )
> Download Environmental Report Supplement 2, Nov. 2009 (ADAMS Acc. No. ML093240135)
> Download Environmental Report Supplement 1, July 2009 (ADAMS Acc. No. ML092100577)
NRC issues Notice of Hearing on GLE's license application for commercial laser technology uranium enrichment plant in Wilmington (North Carolina)
Deadline for Requests for Hearing, Petitions to Intervene and Contentions, and Requests for Limited Participation is March 15, 2010.
> View NRC release Jan. 14, 2010
Federal Register: January 13, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 8) p. 1819-1830 (download full text )
> View NRC Commission Order CLI-10-04, Jan. 8, 2010
GLE submits license application for commercial laser technology uranium enrichment plant in Wilmington (North Carolina)
GE Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) – a business venture of GE, Hitachi Ltd. and Cameco – on 30 June 2009, submitted its license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). GLE would build the commercial uranium-enrichment facility, the first to use laser technology, near Wilmington, N.C. (Silex July 1, 2009)
> Download GLE license application (ADAMS Acc. No. ML092110280)
> Download Submittal of Remaining Portion of Application for the Construction and Operation of the GLE Commercial Facility (ADAMS Acc. No. ML091871003)
NRC issues Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed GE-Hitachi uranium enrichment facility in Wilmington
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announces its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) evaluating this proposed action. The EIS will examine the potential environmental impacts of the proposed GLE facility.
NRC invites public comments on the appropriate scope of issues to be considered in the EIS. Written comments submitted by mail should be postmarked by no later than August 31, 2009 (comment period extended), to ensure consideration.
Federal Register: April 9, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 67) p. 16237-16238 (download full text )
Federal Register: July 24, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 141) p. 36781-36782 (download full text )
NRC releases Environmental Report for GE Hitachi laser isotope separation enrichment plant project
> Download Environmental Report for the GLE Commercial Facility, December 2008 (ADAMS Acc. No. ML090910573)
GE-Hitachi submits first part of application for laser isotope separation enrichment commercial facility project in Wilmington
On Feb. 4, 2009, GE-Hitachi announced that the environmental portion of a combined construction and operating license (COL) application had been submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
(World Nuclear News Feb. 4, 2009)
GE Hitachi selects Wilmington, North Carolina, as site for potential commercial uranium enrichment facility
Global Laser Enrichment (GLE), a subsidiary of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), has announced it has selected GEH's Wilmington headquarters site for a potential commercial uranium enrichment facility. The planned GEH plant would result in the creation of hundreds of new technical, operational and support jobs at the site between now and 2012.
Before moving ahead with full-scale production plans, GLE will first evaluate the results of a demonstration test loop, which is currently under construction, and obtain an NRC license to build and operate the commercial plant. Commercial licensing activities are currently underway to support a projected start-up date of 2012.
The commercial GLE facility would have a target capacity of between 3.5 and six million separative work units (SWUs). GEH intends to make a final decision on the construction of the facility as early as the beginning of 2009.
(Centre Times Daily Apr. 30, 2008)
Current application submittal date for full-scale facility: 2008
> View background information
Areva uranium enrichment plant project (USA)
> see extra page
LES enrichment plant projects
> see extra page
> see extra page