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ORNL, USEC enter into $121 million R&D agreement
OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Sep. 19, 2002 Oak Ridge National Laboratory and USEC Inc. have signed an agreement worth $121 million to develop and demonstrate a highly efficient uranium enrichment technology that could greatly reduce United States dependence on foreign energy sources.
The cooperative research and development agreement with USEC, a supplier of enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power plants, is the largest ever for the Department of Energy's ORNL. The agreement extends through 2007 and will be funded entirely by USEC. Lab officials note, however, that the significance of the agreement extends beyond the funding.
"This represents a commitment to a proven technology that was developed by the Department of Energy over more than two decades," said Gil Gilliland, ORNL associate director for Energy and Engineering Sciences. "This also represents a commitment to support the growth of nuclear energy, a clean power source that is not dependent on foreign suppliers."
USEC employees and technical personnel from ORNL will work to deploy USEC's lead cascade test facility, which will showcase improvements to DOE's proven centrifuge technology. The gas centrifuge process produces a uranium stream concentrated in uranium-235, a radioisotope suitable for making fuel for nuclear power plants.
Over the next few years, ORNL will receive $28.5 million for specific design, testing and analysis work. By 2005, USEC plans to be operating a commercial-sized module of hundreds of next-generation gas centrifuge uranium enrichment machines.
The USEC/ORNL gas centrifuge uranium enrichment machines boast efficiencies four to six times greater than those possible with competing technologies, Gilliland said.
In the 1970s and 1980s, DOE built thousands of centrifuge machines, some of which operated for thousands of hours at performance levels superior to today's best commercially available centrifuge machines. The improvements USEC will use in its lead cascade program will further enhance performance and result in a lower-risk construction program, USEC officials said.
When operations begin in 2005, the test facility will showcase up to 240 full-scale centrifuge machines enriching uranium in a closed cycle. USEC will announce later this year a location in either Kentucky or Ohio for this test facility. Operation of the full-scale centrifuge test facility will provide the cost, schedule and performance data necessary to plan construction of a $1 billion to $1.5 billion commercial centrifuge uranium enrichment plant. The commercial plant would provide about 500 jobs when construction is complete. Construction is expected to create several hundred jobs as well.
"USEC's deployment of U.S. centrifuge technology will meet future worldwide demand for nuclear fuel, ensure domestic energy security, better serve customers and ensure USEC's long-term competitive position," said Dennis Spurgeon, USEC executive vice president and chief operation officer.
Gilliland noted that the agreement also is likely to lead to significant work for others programs at ORNL over the next few years, and he emphasized the value of working with USEC.
"We're extremely pleased to be teaming with USEC on this project of vital importance to our energy security needs and to the nation," Gilliland said.
ORNL is a DOE multiprogram research facility managed by UT-Battelle. USEC is a global energy company with headquarters in Bethesda, Md.