LES announcement of proposed sites delayed

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   An announcement of proposed sites for a $1 billion uranium enrichment facility -- including a location in Unicoi County -- has been postponed for four to five weeks, according to Rod Krich of Exelon.
   Members of the Louisiana Enrichment Services consortium met with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission the last week of June to discuss issues related to LES's proposed license application, which is due to be submitted to the NRC in December along with an environmental report. Krich said the NRC was told of the delay at the meeting.
   A tract consisting of approximately 100 acres, located on Tinker Road in Unicoi County, is under consideration for the project by Louisiana Energy Services -- a partnership made up of Urenco, Exelon, Duke Energy, Louisiana Light & Power, and Fluor Daniel.
   Urenco is the sole competitor of U.S. Enrichment Corp. of Bethesda, Md., in the import of low-enriched uranium into the United States. The facility would employ Urenco's gas centrifuge technology.
   Word of the proposed Unicoi facility has touched off opposition from some local residents, who say the site is located in a 100-year flood plain. Krich said Thursday that he had only just heard about the opposition and that it was not a factor in delaying the announcement.
   At the NRC meeting in June, Patrick Upson of Urenco Ltd. updated the NRC on the status of partnership negotiations and site selection for the LES facility. Upson indicted that LES staff is still negotiating with prospective partners but no commitments have been made. He also said the site selection process is proceeding.
   LES plans to use several protected information categories, including classified National Security Information in its licensing submittals. Under European Community requirements, Urenco enrichment technology must be protected under dual-use requirements which apply to technology and hardware that potentially could be used for production of nuclear weapons.
   LES has applied for, but has not yet received, an export license that would allow transfer of information on Urenco's gas centrifuge technology.
   A 1992 Quadripartite Agreement between the United Kingdom, Germany, The Netherlands, and the United States addresses the protection of information transferred to the United States, however, some procedures need to be updated to meet U.S. and European Community requirements. A process also is needed for handling dual-use information. A meeting of the agreement's working group is scheduled July 29 in The Hague to address the needed changes.
   Krich said The Hague meeting is "more a matter, not so much of the technology transfer, but how we handle classified information, because particularly some of the information on highly enriched uranium is classified. It's a matter of making sure the procedures for handling that are agreed among all of the parties."
   Urenco's gas centrifuge plants, "particularly the plants in Europe ... are pretty clean," Krich said, and indicated that any releases from the U.S. facility would be "well below any regulatory limits."
   He also said that all low-level waste would be shipped off to a radiological burial ground designed for low-level waste, however, "In Europe, the tails are recycled and enriched back up to natural uranium." That also is a possibility for uranium tails produced from the U.S. facility.
   Other wastes produced would be those typical for industry, such as water and sewage, or that released from the ventilation system, which would be at background levels, he said.
   The capacity of enrichment plants is measured in terms of "separative work units" or SWU. LES told the NRC in March that it wants to license and construct a 3 million SWU plant which would consist of six 500,000 SWU cascades. Urenco, which is approaching about 15 percent of the world enrichment market, provides enrichment services in Western Europe, the United States and Asia.
   Centrifuges for the LES facility would be assembled onsite from kits received from Europe. For a 3 million SWU plant, LES estimated the gas centrifuge facility would require 8,600 tons of feed (uranium hexafluoride) per year. It also would produce 7,800 tons of depleted uranium, 800 tons of enriched product, and 12 tons of unprocessed low-level waste annually.
   According to a June 28 announcement in the Federal Register, 211,742 kilograms of U.S.-origin uranium hexafluoride from Cameco Corp. of Ontario, Canada, will be retransferred to Urenco's facility in Capenhurst, England, for enrichment in the near future. Once enriched, the material will be shipped to Duke Energy Corp., in Charlotte, N.C. for use as fuel.
   The NRC has determined that the arrangement is not inimical to the common defense and security and will take effect approximately 15 days from the June 28 notice.