Sydney based Silex Systems is to compete in the United States to produce High Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) – a higher grade of nuclear fuel that will be required to fuel next generation advanced reactors, including Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).
The company announced that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) had released the Request for Proposal (RFP) for acquisition of HALEU fuels, a move for which Silex has been preparing for over a decade.
The company has a sales agreement with the DOE to allow it to process stockpiles of depleted nuclear fuels as part of its Paduach Project in Kentucky (plant site pictured).
The Silex project involves the construction by GLE, a venture owned 51 per cent by Silex and 49 per cent by Canadian company Cameco, of the Paducah Laser Enrichment Facility to process the depleted uranium over a period of several decades.
The facility would utilise the Silex system of laser enrichment, a technology which appears to be the frontrunner in next generation enrichment.
Production would begin in the late 2020s of around 2,000 tonnes of natural uranium hexafluoride per annum, the equivalent of a mine producing 5.2 million pounds of uranium oxide.
Silex has raised $120 million from investors to fund its foray into laser enrichment, and funding for the HALEU RFP was included in a US$700 million package under the US’s Inflation Reduction Act.
Silex told investors: “We expect a US$100 million funding opportunity to be published later this year to support innovative fuel technology.
“We hope DOE moves expeditiously to publish all available funding opportunities to create a competitive, diverse U.S. fuel supply chain and to pivot from Russian supply.”
Silex is based at Lucas Heights in New South Wales, the site of Australia’s only nuclear reactor, and works closely with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).
Interestingly Silex is also central to another developing Australian industry – the company is producing treated silicon being used in developing and making silicon quantum computer chips.
Picture: Silex Systems/Paducah, KY Enrichment Plant Site