Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Australian-USA Laser Enrichment vs. Russian Centrifuges

SILEX v Existing Technologies

 PROCESSLaser ExcitationMechanical (‘centrifugal force’)Mechanical (‘brute force’)
 ENRICHMENT EFFICIENCY2 to 20(1)1.31.004
 COST COMPARISONPotentially AttractiveCapital IntensiveVery expensive
 % OF EXISTING MARKET(2)0%54%33%
 STATUSUnder Development 3rd GenerationProven 2nd GenerationObsolescent 1st Generation
Source: Silex Systems

Above, you can see a tabular summary of three different ways to enrich uranium isotopically. The new Silex-GE laser enrichment venture to be located in Wilmington, North Carolina, has recently passed a milestone toward receiving regulatory approval from the US government.

According to Silex, the new laser enrichment process might prove to be up to 15 times more efficient than the old centrifuge approach, which Russia favours.

Here is more on the Russian viewpoint:
The gas uranium centrifuge - despite its seeming simplicity - is extremely complex and high-tech equipment. Not everyone, even the well-known engineering companies such as Samsung, can build those. Uranium enrichment has many unapparent obstacles and non-trivial problems in the operation. Russia is a recognized leader in uranium centrifuges.

"The characteristic feature of the Russian technology is the production of high modulus and high strength carbon fiber, a critical structural material for gas centrifuges. Carbon fiber is produced at "Argon", "Plant of carbon structural materials," and "SNV." The details are developed in three design bureaus: "Centrotech - St. Petersburg," OKB "Nizhny Novgorod" and Novouralsk Science and Engineering Center.

Production of gas centrifuges in Russia is managed by Engineering Center "Russian Gas Centrifuge." Firms engaged in the uranium enrichment are part of fuel company "TVEL," that brings together all organizations in one way or another associated with the production of nuclear fuel.

...Not all countries that have nuclear power plants have their own enrichment plants. Even the U.S. does not have such plant, and all enriched uranium is imported to the U.S., including from its "sworn friend" - Russia.

Currently there are only a few players on the world market of enriched uranium. There are only two main players - Russia and the EU. But this is not a classic oligopoly. There are a number of important points. First, as such, the global market of gas centrifuges or separating plants does not exist, primarily because of the sensitivity of this sector in terms of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Accordingly, manufacturers of gas centrifuges do not enter in direct competition in the international markets.

Second, in addition to Russia, only West European consortium Urenco has advanced and cost effective gas centrifuge technology. To be exact - it is ETC company joint with the French nuclear engineering holding Areva. U.S. Enrichment Corporation - USEC - is only unfolding its project "The American Centrifuge," and it is too early to tell what the economic indicators of the Americans will be.

Third, neither Russia nor its main competitor - Urenco / ETC - aspire to replicate innovative separation plants and conduct "unaddressed" sales of gas centrifuges. Third countries are sold only outdated technology and equipment. _Pravda
It will require years of work and testing before it is known if the new Silex-GE laser enrichment approach will prove competitive. In the meantime, the various centrifuge technologies will continue to do the bulk of the enrichment work globally.



Blogger warpmine said...

Question: When will GE Silex be moved to China? If GE has a hand in it, I'm skeptical of when the tech will be sent to our enemies.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The wavelengths of laser light and the frequency of the stimulation have been discussed in open literature. Can it be so far away for interested parties to put together the rest of the puzzle?

SILEX is small enough to be housed in unremarkable industrial facilities, and the concentration factor makes the production of 20 or so kg U235 relatively quick. I look for major proliferation as soon as just a few more facts leak out.

JP Straley

5:37 AM  

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