Enriching our Nuclear Capabilities

By December 23, 2013Economy, Energy

Almost 20 percent of electricity consumed in this country is generated by nuclear power plants. That percent has remained relatively steady over the last 30 years. Today in the United States we are building additional nuclear power plants and worldwide there are over 173 power plants that are either under construction or in the planning process. Interestingly enough, about 100 of those plants are scheduled to be built in various countries in Asia (59 are in China).

For fuel, these plants use low-enriched uranium (LEU), which only a small number of countries produce for export, according to a November 2013 Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) report entitled “Recapturing U.S. Leadership in Uranium Enrichment.” The United States’ ability to produce LEU has steadily decreased during the past 30 years and today, for the first time in approximately 60 years, we have no ability to produce LEU using American technology. According to the CSIS report, about 85 percent of our LEU needs are met by other countries. There are a number of reasons for this as outlined in the report, but the fact remains that for strategic and energy purposes the United States needs to maintain the capacity to produce LEU.

USEC Inc. is working to bring the next generation of enrichment technology to market. The American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio holds great promise and is successfully completing a 19-month research, development, and demonstration program with the Department of Energy.  America needs its own technology to produce LEU not only for our energy security and non-proliferation purposes but for national security needs, which by law and treaty can only be met with indigenous U.S. technology.

The CSIS report lays this out in great detail and provides a detailed analysis of the current global state of uranium enrichment. If we are truly going to support an “all of the above” energy approach then we must have a strong and competitive nuclear energy supply chain and that includes nuclear fuel from American technology for our power plants.

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