The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, December 12, 2001

European company wants to compete with USEC uranium
Urenco Ltd. is looking at building a uranium enrichment plant using the gas centrifuge process in the United States.

By Bill Bartleman

Urenco Ltd., a European supplier of nuclear fuel, wants to build a uranium enrichment plant in the United States in direct competition with USEC Inc., operator of the nation's only enrichment plant in Paducah.

"We see it as a commercial opportunity to deploy our technology in the United States," said Peter Lenny, CEO of Urenco Inc., the company's U.S. subsidiary. "We have not made a final decision, but are very seriously considering it. It is looking very favorable at this point in time."

Charles Yulish, a USEC spokesman, declined to comment on the Urenco reports. However, he said USEC is continuing its plans to develop more efficient technology to incorporate into a new plant.

USEC currently supplies about 40 percent of the world's nuclear fuel, while Urenco supplies about 12 percent.

Urenco's top officials from Europe visited Capitol Hill in recent days to make preliminary contacts with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Bush administration. If meetings go well and there is a corporate decision to build a new plant, a partnership will be formed with U.S.-based companies to build a $1 billion facility, Lenny said.

He expected it would be some of the same companies involved in a similar project seven years ago in Louisiana. Those plans were dropped for several reasons, including environmental objections.

Two companies involved in that venture were Duke Energy and Exelon, two of the nation's leading suppliers of power. Those and other companies are promoting a revival of using nuclear power to produce electricity.

"We are encouraged because this is a good business opportunity and because the major utilities want it (a new domestic supplier of nuclear fuel) to happen," Lenny said. He said utility companies' concerns include the price of domestic nuclear fuel and the reliability of the supply.

USEC, which took over the domestic uranium enrichment operations from the federal government four years ago, has faced financial problems caused by increased competition and high production costs using the 50-year-old gaseous diffusion technology.

Lenny said if plans are approved by Urenco executives, officials will begin meeting early next year with the NRC to discuss the licensing process. Late next year, a site would be selected and a formal NRC application would be filed.

Lenny said it is premature to speculate on potential sites, but said one with a history of nuclear fuel production will likely be selected.

"We learned a lesson in Louisiana that we must go where we are wanted," Lenny said. "And the sites where we think we will be wanted are those that have experience with the nuclear industry."

He acknowledged that Paducah and Portsmouth, Ohio, would probably be on the site list, as well as locations of government-run nuclear facilities. USEC closed an enrichment plant in Portsmouth last summer.

Lenny said many factors will be considered in selecting a site.

The $1 billion plant would use the gas centrifuge process, which is more efficient because it uses a fraction of the Paducah plant's electricity. In Paducah, the cost of power accounts for about 70 percent of nuclear fuel costs.

Urenco was formed in the 1970s as a joint Dutch, German and British initiative to develop efficient methods of producing nuclear fuel.

Earlier this year, USEC filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Commerce accusing Urenco and others of violating trade regulations by dumping low-cost nuclear fuel on the U.S. market. It said the low price was the result of subsidies from foreign governments, which isn't allowed under U.S. import laws.

USEC has asked federal officials to impose anti-dumping duties on the imported fuel.