By FRANK LEWIS
PDT Staff Writer
For over three years, USEC Inc. has attempted to get the U.S. Department of Energy to approve a $2 billion loan guarantee so USEC and its partners, Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox, could continue to move forward with the American Centrifuge Project at Piketon.
Sometimes comments made during an interactive conversation may give more information than that given out on a formal basis. Such may have been the case when this exchange between Energy Secretary Steven Chu and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, took place at Thursday’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in which Chu reaffirmed the need to deploy a new U.S. enrichment technology to support the country’s national security needs and nonproliferation policy objectives.
Portman: “With regard to enriched uranium, if you could talk about for a moment why you think it is so important. Obviously we need it for our nuclear power plants. At one point we had a majority of the enriched uranium in the world produced by the United States. I think we’re down to about 25 percent of the world’s supply of enriched uranium now. Maybe the place to start is where do we get it now in that we aren’t producing nearly as much as we used to?”
Chu: “There are two parts to this. One is the military side, the security side. We have international treaties which we want to abide by, nonproliferation treaties which say that the uranium used for nuclear security purposes actually has to be indigenous to that country. It’s a very wise treaty because you don’t want one country using technology of another country to enrich uranium that they can turn into weapons. So, we need our own indigenous source of uranium to maintain our stockpile; also uranium that we need to produce tritium for that stockpile,” Chu said. “Then there’s a larger issue about the civilian nuclear side, much larger amounts of uranium. We think that if the United States – certainly the United States will be a player, the United States is well respected for its safety record, for its care in the way it handles its own civilian nuclear industry and for the technologies that it has developed at companies like GE, Westinghouse. It would also benefit if we had a homegrown, new technology for enriching uranium, again so that we can offer for sale to other countries, other developing countries, France is a player in this, Russia is a player in this. We think that if the United States is a supplier of this uranium that we could have a moderating effect, again, on nonproliferation, so it is for that reason as well.”
Portman: “In essence, discouraging emerging economies from developing their own enrichment capabilities saying that fuel they need for a peaceful nuclear power facility can come from the United States or be a staple for their supply.”
Chu: “That’s correct. In fact, if you put yourselves in the shoes of another country who might want to have nuclear technology, they want to see several suppliers so they would not be beholden to one or two. And we also feel that the United States can lead by example of helping do what we can do in order to decrease the risks of proliferation. So, it’s the whole nuclear supply issue. We will be a player no matter what, but it would certainly benefit from that respect as well.”
Portman: “Earlier we talked about your commitment to a new enrichment technology that gives the United States the ability to get back on the cutting edge in terms of our technology, create great advanced manufacturing jobs, but also be able to supply our energy needs, and from a national security point of view, to deal with our need for tritium for the nuclear arsenal which comes from enriched uranium, that tritium comes from domestic sources of enriched uranium, is that correct?”
Portman: “Is that the policy of this administration that we should have a U.S. source of low enriched uranium for tritium production at TVA?”
Chu: “It’s not in the policy, by treaty we’re obligated to have U.S. sources to create our tritium.”
Portman: “So this is a requirement that we have a domestic source.”
The DOE recently asked for $150 million for the first year of a two-year partnership with USEC Inc., titled RD&D (Research, Development & Demonstration), which would keep the testing of the centrifuges going, prolonging the opportunity for the DOE to ultimately authorize the loan guarantee. The ACP is expected to result in around 8,000 jobs, including 4,000 in this area.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org