- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

Bethesda-based USEC announced plans yesterday to open a uranium-enrichment test facility in Ohio by 2004.
The facility would be the second uranium-enrichment site in the United States and the first nuclear facility to go on line since 1996, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The facility will test new technology for producing uranium used as fuel in nuclear power plants.
State and federal officials from Kentucky, where USEC operates an enrichment facility at Paducah, and Ohio, where USEC controls a facility in Piketon that had been mothballed, lobbied for the investment. USEC chose to upgrade the old Piketon facility.
USEC President William H. Timbers said that the private company would invest about $150 million toward developing the Ohio site.
About 50 jobs would be created initially, he said.
Depending on results from the test facility and the world market for enriched uranium, company officials will decide in 2004 whether and where to put a commercial plant. The commercial facility would represent a $1 billion to $1.5 billion investment, Mr. Timbers said.
USEC operates the only uranium-enrichment facility in the United States at Paducah. Enrichment is a step in the production of uranium fuel, used by nuclear power plants to generate electricity.
USEC said it would submit an application for the test enrichment facility to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in early 2003. The facility should be fully on line by 2005, though portions will be operating in 2004, a company spokesman said.
The new USEC site would upgrade technology and keep the company a step ahead of competitors, Mr. Timbers said.
"We will have test equipment up and running prior to any other player," Mr. Timbers said.
Louisiana Energy Services, a private consortium of energy firms, plans to build a new plant that would be operational in 2006. It would be USEC's only domestic competitor.
USEC's announcement will not affect LES's plans, said Peter Lenny, president of Urenco Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the U.K.'s Urenco Group and a member of the consortium.
The firm's plant, to be situated near Hartsville, Tenn., will cost about $1.1 billion and is modeled on a similar facility that is "substantially complete" in the Netherlands, he said.
"I don't see there is a race to get a facility up and running," Mr. Lenny said. "Our technology is proven" while USEC's is "anything but" proven for commercial use, he said.
USEC uses technology from the 1950s to produce enriched uranium at its Kentucky facility. The new USEC facility will use technology based on Department of Energy equipment from the 1980s.
The worldwide enriched-uranium market is worth about $3 billion, Mr. Timbers said. USEC supplies about one-third of the world market and 70 percent of the U.S. market.
USEC also is the executive agent for the U.S. government's "megatons to megawatts" program, an 8-year-old program to convert Russian nuclear weapons to nuclear fuel. USEC purchases the nuclear fuel from Russia and sells it to customers to power their electricity-generating stations.
The U.S. and Russian governments in June approved pricing terms for the remaining 12 years of the program.
Russian bomb-grade material capable of making more than 6,000 warheads has been converted to commercial nuclear reactor fuel since the program started in 1993, the company said. USEC has paid Russia nearly $3 billion for the fuel.
USEC was created in 1998 through the privatization of the United States Enrichment Corp., a government monopoly in charge of manufacturing nuclear fuel.

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