Six months after signing one contract, Centrus Energy Corporation and UT-Battelle LLC have agreed on a new contract for engineering and testing work on technology that uses gas centrifuges to enrich uranium.
Enriched uranium can be used in nuclear power plants and in nuclear weapons, as fuel for nuclear naval vessels, and to ensure a tritium supply, which is needed to maintain the effectiveness of America’s nuclear deterrent, a press release said.
The new Centrus Energy-UT-Battelle contract is valued at about $25 million, and it runs through September 30, 2017. Under this new contract, Centrus scientists, engineers, and operators will “use the company’s unique facilities in Oak Ridge to develop and test technology improvements to reduce costs, improve manufacturability, and enhance the long-term reliability of U.S. uranium enrichment technology,” the press release said.
UT-Battelle operates Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy.
The uranium enrichment technology is known as the American Centrifuge technology. It’s expected to support future national security and energy security needs, the press release said.
“The work ensures that critical U.S. expertise in centrifuge technology and operations is maintained and advanced to meet the future needs of the nation,” it said.
“With this contract, our scientists, engineers, and operations staff can continue their vital work ensuring that an advanced U.S. uranium enrichment technology is ready for deployment when the country needs it,” said Larry B. Cutlip, vice president of Centrus Field Operations. “While those decisions will be made by the president and Congress, Centrus remains committed to being a reliable partner for the U.S. government in advancing America’s critical national interests.”
The company said that, while the vast majority of its business is focused on supplying nuclear fuel to utilities through contracts with a global network of uranium enrichment producers, Centrus remains committed to its role in supporting U.S. national interests.
The current $32.3 million contract, which was announced in March, runs through the end of this month. Centrus, which supplies enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power plants in the United States and around the world, said then that it had completed a successful three-year demonstration of the existing American Centrifuge technology at its facility in Piketon, Ohio, with 120 machines linked together in a cascade to simulate industrial operating conditions.
Informed by data from that demonstration, Centrus scientists, engineers, and operators expected to use the facilities in Tennessee to continue advancing the technology—identifying improvements that could reduce costs, help with manufacturing, and enhance the long-term reliability of enrichment operations. The work also ensured that critical U.S. expertise in centrifuge design, manufacturing, and operations is maintained, an earlier press release said.
Here is background from the press release:
The United States, which once led the world in uranium enrichment, shut down the last of its outdated and increasingly uneconomical Cold War-era enrichment plants in 2013—leaving the nation without a domestic, industrial-scale uranium enrichment capability for national security purposes for the first time since the Manhattan Project. For commercial electricity production, the United States now imports the great majority of its enriched uranium fuel from Russia, Europe, and China.
While current market conditions do not support building a full-scale uranium enrichment plant for commercial purposes, over the long term the United States will need to deploy a domestic enrichment technology at industrial scale to strengthen energy security, advance U.S. nonproliferation goals, provide fuel for the long-term needs of the nuclear Navy, and ensure a supply of tritium, which is needed to maintain the effectiveness of America’s nuclear deterrent. In October 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a report to Congress which explored a range of possible technologies and found that the American Centrifuge is the “most technically advanced and lowest risk option” for restoring America’s domestic uranium enrichment capability to meet long-term national security needs.
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