Department of Energy to sell depleted uranium to Global Laser Enrichment

U.S. Department of Energy announced an agreement to sell depleted uranium to Global Laser Enrichment (GLE). According to the DoE press-release, the uranium will be supplied over a period of 40 years and will be used to "produce natural uranium which is used for production of fuel for civil nuclear reactors." It was reported that the deal includes the rights to re-enrich 300,000 tonnes of tails, producing around 100,000 tonnes of "natural-grade" uranium.

Global Laser Enrichment will build a new enrichment plant, Paducah Laser Enrichment Facility (PLEF), in Paducah, Kentucky next to the DoE site that hosted old gaseous diffusion enrichment plant (that plant was closed in 2013). The PLEF plant will use the laser enrichment technology known as Silex. In 2012 GLE obtained an NRC license to construct and operate an enrichment facility in Wilmington, NC. That license allows GLE to enrich uranium to 8% U-235. In 2014, it indicated its intent to submit an application for construction of the facility in Paducah. However, GLE told the industry press that it "has made no formal decision to proceed with licensing or construction of the facility."

Laser enrichment of uranium has raised proliferation concerns. For a detailed analysis of the physical principles and operationalization of uranium isotope separation through laser excitation and preferential condensation repression of uranium-235 hexafluoride which may be the basis for the SILEX (Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation) system used by Global Laser Enrichment - see Ryan Snyder, "A Proliferation Assessment of Third Generation Laser Uranium Enrichment Technology," Science & Global Security 24, no. 2 (2016): pp. 68-91.