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Enrichment Loan Guarantee Denied

by Jeffrey W. Johnson
August 3, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 31

The Department of Energy last week denied $2 billion in loan guarantees sought by the global energy company USEC to continue construction of its partially complete centrifuge-based uranium enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio, which would create low-enrichment uranium (LEU) fuel for nuclear power plants. DOE said the facility was not ready to move to commercial-scale operations, which is a requirement for the loan program. DOE did, however, offer USEC some $45 million in grants for further research. Currently, USEC produces about half the nation's LEU reactor fuel primarily by down-blending Russian bomb-grade uranium, along with using an older, noncentrifuge-based enrichment technology. To soften the blow to Ohio workers, DOE also announced it would increase funding for a huge cleanup program at Piketon and other sites, spending $150 million to $200 million annually over the next four years to treat some 700,000 tons of depleted uranium stored at various government facilities, primarily left over from weapons work. The depleted uranium would be treated in Piketon at a facility that is yet to be completed. USEC strongly objected to the decision to withhold loan guarantees, saying it had invested $1.5 billion in the project and secured another $1 billion in financing.


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