USEC's American Centrifuge Project Lives Again

By Jacob Mazer, Assistant Editor, Fuel Cycle Week

The U.S. Department of Energy agreed to push back the final review of USEC's American Centrifuge Plant loan guarantee application by six months to allow the company to address the problems in its initial application.

The move represents a change of heart for the DOE, which told USEC in late July that the ACP application would not meet the requirements for the loan guarantee program, encouraging it to withdraw the application and resubmit over the next 18 months. This announcement was met with outrage by USEC, which accused the Obama administration of going back on its promise to support the project. Even more incendiary were the implications of job losses should the project be forced to demobilize--as many as 2,000 according to USEC--leading employees to descend on Washington, DC by the busload to protest the DOE's decision.

The Department cited the need for further testing of USEC's ACP technology as the cause for its initial rejection. In addition to extra time, the DOE outlined for the company the specifics it hoped to see in the application. "USEC's operating experience on its 'lead cascade' must demonstrate high confidence that machine reliability is commensurate with its facility operating plan," said DOE Undersecretary for Science Steven Koonin. "We have discussed with USEC specific test results that would give such confidence, and we look forward to working with them to that end."

Though the new deadline is clearly a victory for USEC, the company has still been forced to halt construction operations for the ACP. One of its contractors, Fluor, confirmed that 100 jobs had been shed at the site with more likely to come.

Nonetheless, this extension represents more than just a second chance for USEC to secure a chunk of loan guarantee money. With the exception, the additional time, and the guidance toward meeting regulations (not to mention the $45 million toward ACP research and development offered by the DOE last week) the DOE has shown a willingness to usher the project toward realization.