Tuesday, August 29, 2006

LES Breaks Ground on National Enrichment Facility

It's another good news day for the nuclear energy industry. Down in New Mexico, LES has broken ground on the new National Enrichment Facility. From the Current Argus:

Louisiana Energy Service plans to hold the groundbreaking ceremony for the National Enrichment Facility today at the NEF site near Eunice.

The NEF, according to a press release, is the first major commercial nuclear project licensed in more than 30 years and the first ever to be awarded a combined construction and operating license. Upon completion of construction, the NEF will provide a domestic source of enriched uranium for the country's nuclear energy needs.

The groundbreaking will take place at 10 a.m.

The $1.5 billion NEF project, according to the press release, will provide close to 300 fulltime and contract jobs and more than 1,000 multi-year construction jobs in southeastern New Mexico. It will use proven technology that has operated safely in Europe for 30 years.

When construction is complete, the NEF will operate the nation's most advanced uranium enrichment facility and provide a secure domestic enrichment source to the U.S. nuclear energy companies.
NEI issued a statement from President and CEO, Skip Bowman:
“The Nuclear Energy Institute congratulates LES and its many friends throughout New Mexico and west Texas on this historic day. Once built, the state-of-the-art enrichment facility will be a rock of economic stability for the region for decades to come.

“Just as importantly, the National Enrichment Facility will help ensure a competitive, reliable supply of low-enriched uranium for the nuclear power plants that are vital to our nation’s future energy security. It will enhance our domestic supply of fuel to generate clean, reliable, affordable electricity that our nation needs.

“With the nation’s 103 operating nuclear power plants running at 90 percent capacity and the prospect of new nuclear power plant construction moving steadily closer to reality, this new enrichment facility will add to our energy security as it increases our domestic capability to produce nuclear fuel for electricity production.”
For more enrichment related news, click here.

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Kirk Sorensen said...

Enrichment is a double-edged sword. Our fleet of LEU-fueled, once-through reactors require it, but it is this very "civilian" technology that Iran claims is necessary for their supposedly peaceful nuclear future. And although I harbor no doubt that they seek nuclear weapons, I can deny a nation's legitimate claim to develop enrichment technology if they actually intended to use nuclear power in the same way we do.

But there are other ways to do it. WASH-1097 showed back in 1969 that liquid-fluoride reactors, once they got past their "start-charges" of fissile fuel, required essentially no uranium for the remainder of their operating lifetime. The makeup fuel consisted entirely of thorium.

If we were told tomorrow that we (the US) could never enrich uranium again, we could still develop nuclear power. We would use existing stocks of fissile material (most of which the gov't wants to dispose of) and build either uranium-plutonium fast-spectrum breeders or thorium-fueled thermal-spectrum fluoride reactors. But we wouldn't have to have enrichment technology to keep adding nuclear energy to the grid. Countries like Iran probably could not follow that lead.

Gunter said...

The blog forgets to mention that NIRS and Public Citizen have appealed the licensing board decision to federal court.

LES breaks ground at its own risk.

Brian Mays said...

Two comments:

(1) Sure enrichment isn't necessary for nuclear power. In addition to thorium reactors, one could simply build a fleet of CANDU's and run off of natural uranium.

Enriching to ~5% for conventional PWR's and BWR's is simply convenient.

(2) Let's hope that NDRS's and Public Citizen's arguments in their legal appeal are more sound than the typical propaganda and disinformation that they spew, for their sake. Otherwise, I doubt that their appeal will go very far.

Why should they be so vehemently opposed to this new enrichment facility? Is it because it will undermine their dubious claims that uranium enrichment in the US is a major source of CFC emissions (which it is not) or that the entire "energy intensive" process is fueled by "greenhouse-gas emitting" coal plants?

New technology leads to better solutions, but makes the business of criticizing the nuclear industry increasingly more difficult.

Good luck with that.