Saturday, June 28, 2008

Could McCain deliver on his nuclear energy promise?

Right now the answer is "not hardly likely"

McCain In a campaign speech last week republican presidential candidate John McCain (left) said that if elected he would build 45 nuclear reactors by 2030 and up to 100 over a longer period of time. For advocates of nuclear energy, that's really good news, but from the perspective of actually getting the job done, there are a lot of unanswered questions.

Businessweek magazine has a realistic assessment of what it would take to build 45 new reactors in two decades. With today's government politics and financial arrangements for new nuclear plants, you have to ask whether McCain is just whistling in the wind, or promising the nuclear equivalent of a chicken in every pot? Here's what he said.

AmericanChickenSo, if I am elected president, I will set this nation on a course to building 45 new reactors by the year 2030, with the ultimate goal of 100 new plants to power the homes and factories and cities of America. This task will be as difficult as it is necessary. We will need to recover all the knowledge and skills that have been lost over three stagnant decades in a highly technical field. We will need to solve complex problems of moving and storing materials that will always need safeguarding. We will need to do all of these things, and do them right, as we have done great things before.

Businessweek notes that McCain also comes out for spent fuel reprocessing and justifies the entire package as a means to fight global warming. Well hooray because these are the right ideas, but getting to that outcome will take a lot more than campaign rhetoric.

How about a reality check?

overloadedFirst, there is the matter of actually building nuclear power plants. The U.S., the U.K., and several other countries, let their manufacturing infrastructure rot, and ran off the engineers and skilled trades who know how to put one up. Is it any wonder that Areva's two new EPRs currently under construction, one in Finland the other in France, are experiencing problems with quality assurance issues and are running behind schedule and over budget?

JohnRowe Second, John Rowe, CEO of Exelon, (right) told Businessweek, "nuclear plants are very expensive, very high risk projects." The magazine correctly points out that last September when NRG filed its COL with the NRC as a "first mover," the cost to build a new nuclear power plant was about $2,000/Kw. It is now headed towards $6,000/Kw due to rapid and unanticipated cost increases in cement and steel.

Government support in the form of loan guarantees are grossly inadequate for the scope of McCain's vision and will support four or five new plants, but certainly not 45. Then there is competition for government support. The solar and wind energy industries, which falsely criticize loan guarantees as "subsidies," are merely interested in shoving the nuclear industry aside and claiming the government's credit rating for themselves. As they see it there is a zero sum game and they intend to win it on the on the basis of "green versus glow" arguments. David Crane, CEO of NRG, told Businessweek, "Without the loan guarantees, I think it would be very difficult for the first wave of plants to move forward."

What does the industry think of McCain's campaign promise. Here are their recommendations courtesy of BW.

"I'm not quite sure the number McCain put out is obtainable," says Adrian Heymer, senior director for new plant deployment at the Nuclear Energy Institute. "If there are any hiccups in coming in on time or on budget, it will be a struggle to go much beyond the first eight or 10 plants."

Exelon's Rowe adds that the industry can't grow until the government solves the waste problem, either by opening a proposed storage site in Nevada, or by setting up surface storage facilities around the country. And in the long run, to cut the amount of waste, he says, "it's very clear that we've got to have a fuel-recycling technology."

solar-energyAs far as democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is concerned, despite coming from Illinois, which heavily relies on nuclear energy, he's says he's a skeptic. He's tilted toward the Democratic party's green wing, and their campaign contributions. They strongly favor solar and wind energy over nuclear power. Businessweek points out these same energy interests are hedging their bets and making their case with McCain and well as Obama.

Robert Fishman, a veteran utility executive who is now CEO of solar startup Ausra, says the investment tax credit sought by the solar industry would cost less than 1% of the dollars going to nukes and fossil fuels. "I don't think we've done a good job laying out to Senator McCain what the renewable industry can do for the country."

But wait, the New York Times says there is a different picture to be painted about Barack Obama (left) and nuclear energy. Last February the NYT published a report which shows close ties between the Illinois Senator and the nuclear industry.

Since 2003, executives and employees of Exelon, which is based in Illinois, have contributed at least $227,000 to Mr. Obama’s campaigns for the United States Senate and for president. Two top Exelon officials, Frank M. Clark, executive vice president, and John W. Rogers Jr., a director, are among his largest fund-raisers.

Another Obama donor, John W. Rowe, chairman of Exelon, is also chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear power industry’s lobbying group, based in Washington. Exelon’s support for Mr. Obama far exceeds its support for any other presidential candidate.

In addition, Mr. Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod, has worked as a consultant to Exelon. A spokeswoman for Exelon said Mr. Axelrod’s company had helped an Exelon subsidiary, Commonwealth Edison, with communications strategy periodically since 2002.

So maybe Barack Obama's "skeptical" nuclear frame of reference is just so much hot air? In an election, even practicing thespians can be misunderstood to be something else. Nuclear energy utility executives do not give campaign contributions and raise funds for "skeptics."

What's wrong with this picture?

Everyone seems to be missing the point. It isn't business as usual anymore. Global warming does change a lot of things, and the usual positioning of pigs at the government trough is the wrong model for figuring out how to address the threat to humanity. Both candidates must look beyond campaign rhetoric. Their twin challenges are to save the planet and keep the lights on. Anything less is just another "chicken in every pot" type of promise and just as worthless.

& & &

Did Herbert Hoover really promise American's a "chicken in every pot?" The answer appears to be no.

# # #

House Committee erases GNEP from '09 budget

Prospects are uncertain in the Senate [Update 07/03/08]

GNEP logo The House Appropriations Committee voted this week to zero out funding in FY2009 for the Department of Energy's ill-fated and much maligned Global Nuclear Energy Program (GNEP). This is a repeat of last year's action by the House which kicked GNEP to the curb only to see some of the cuts restored by Senate action via conference committee.

The immediate impact on the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) next fiscal year (2009) would be a loss of about $57 million which was down $8 million from FY 2008 according to DOE budget documents on the agency's web site. GNEP is a major source of R&D funding for the Idaho lab.

INL bannerIn prior years the Senate has put money back in to reduce the impacts of budget cuts to GNEP by the House. However, that effort was supported by Senate Appropriation Committee member Idaho Senator Larry Craig. Last year he tapped danced his way into political limbo leaving no strong advocate in the Senate for increased appropriations for nuclear programs in Idaho.

BobBennettUtahIdaho Senator Mike Crapo, who has a solid history of support for INL's nuclear energy R&D programs, does not sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee. However, next week Crapo is bringing Utah Senator Bob Bennett (left) to Idaho for a tour of the lab. Bennett is on the Appropriations committee. The plan is to give Bennett a reason to vote for funding for the lab by letting him get a first hand view of what it does and to meet the people who run it and support it. Bennett will also address business and civic leaders at a lunch meeting in Idaho Falls. Here's what Crapo said about Bennett's upcoming visit.

“With Senator Craig’s retirement, Idaho will lose a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. I have enjoyed a lengthy friendship with my colleague from Utah, Senator Bob Bennett, who is also a member of the Appropriations Committee. We have discussed the regional importance of keeping the INL, our nation’s leading nuclear lab, strong. We both support the need for a long-term commitment to research that is the hallmark of the INL. The timing is right for a visit to the site and to discuss energy issues with Idahoans in Idaho Falls.”

Advanced fuel program found under a fig leaf

genIV However, even if the House was harsh in its judgement, not all is not lost. The House found a convenient fig leaf under which it put back some of the money it flattened in its steam roller rhetoric. The House committee also funded $200 million for demonstrating the GEN IV nuclear reactor technology, an increase of $130 million over the President’s request. Funding for the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI) is $120 million, with $90 million funded through the Nuclear Energy Program and $30 million funded in the Office of Science. See additional details from World Nuclear News (below).

Programmatic EIS now a shadow of its former self

At the program level DOE's once massive, and now massively scaled-back, programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) will likely conclude with the agency punting a decision on future facilities to the next administration. At one time DOE had planned to select by June 2008 three types of GNEP sites (spent fuel reprocessing, fast reactors, and nuclear fuel R&D) from 13 sites in 11 states. Later, after paying for scoping studies for all 13 sites, DOE reduced the site selection process to current federal facilities including Idaho and Savannah River. At this point it looks like no GNEP facilities will be built or started during the Bush administration.

Zeroed out, nada, zip, just plain gone

World Nuclear News reported that overall, the House Appropriations Committee cut the funding for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) to zero. GNEP is a US-led initiative which aims to develop a closed nuclear fuel cycle, with the aim of enhancing energy security while promoting non-proliferation.

However, the House committee disagreed. In a summary of the committee's markup it wrote,"the initiative to reprocess spent nuclear fuel undermines our nation's nuclear non-proliferation policy." Last year, a panel of the US National Academy of Sciences wrote that the commercial-scale spent fuel reprocessing facilities planned under GNEP were not economically justifiable.

Supporting the bill, Rep. David Hobson R-OH), representing the minority members of the committee, said: "I am pleased that the subcommittee continues its support for nuclear power, with full funding for Yucca Mountain, the requested extension of the authority for nuclear loan guarantees, and a significant increase in research for the next-generation nuclear plant."

He also said that although cutting funding to GNEP the committee was "doing the right thing" by maintaining a modest research program on spent fuel recycling under the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative.

"We have to hedge our bets on a variety of energy sources, but nuclear power will certainly continue to play a major role in our energy portfolio for the foreseeable future."

The debate about nuclear energy and GNEP is likely to get side tracked into a debate about Yucca mountain which the House committee did fund. Democrats used the project to bash republican presidential candidate John McCain over issues related to transportation of spent fuel to the geologic repository.

The endless sea of political controversy is choppy with six foot waves the norm this political season.

Update 07/03/08

Utah Senator Bob Bennett came to Idaho Falls this week delivering a soothing speech to worried business and civic leaders jittery about the future of funding at the Idaho National Laboratory and its payroll of over 6,000 people in nuclear R&D, waste cleanup, and US Navy programs.

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo invited Senator Bob Bennett from Utah to explain ways he's trying to keep lab funding. Bennett's trip to Idaho and tour of the lab was more than just a Senate courtesy among colleagues. Crapo has been ramping up his pro-nuclear profile after years of standing in Craig's shadow as Idaho's junior senator. Craig has done most of the heavy lifting supporting funding for the lab. Craig's tap dance into political limbo pushed Crapo into the spotlight. His invitation to Bennett to tour the lab is a clear signal he plans to work the nuclear issue.

With the retirement of Idaho Senator Larry Craig and Pete Domenici from New Mexico, both states will lose seniority on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees the DOE budget. Bennett told a lunch meeting of business and civic leaders on July 2 what they wanted to hear about the future of the INL and its combined payroll of over 6,000 employees. Bennett told Idaho Falls KIDK TV he has been working with Craig and Domenici for the past several years to keep congressional support for the lab, despite some opposition.

"It's a major national interest, not just a local one. It would be tremendously short sided if we were to say, this is the place we need to save money"

The Utah Senator told KIDK's reporter he isn't worried about keeping INL money.

"I have not seen any signs of reluctance to continue funding the national labs, including Idaho," says Bennett.

"I certainly would fight any effort to try to cut back on the funding. Because as I've spent time touring the labs I've come to understand what an enormous and valuable asset they are."

It is a good thing the INL isn't a defense program lab like Lawrence Livermore which has had the stuffing kicked out of it with recent layoffs of 1,800 people including hundreds of tops scientists and engineers.

Can Bennett deliver?

Bennett offered the Idaho Falls audience a bevy of brave words. Time will come when we'll see if his vote had any effect on the lab's funding and its future. He is not a ranking member of the Energy subcommittee on Appropriations and there is every indication the Demcrats will control the Senate following the '08 election. Idaho is unlikely to send a Democrat to Congress to replace Craig.

According to his Senate web site, Bennett's interest in "high tech" issues seems outdated with a reference to Y2K issues for the computer industry. Utah does not have any nuclear power plants though nuclear waste issues have stirred up controversy regarding shipments to a low-level waste site located near Salt Lake City.

The good news in a Senate with 100 members is that every vote has real impact compared to the House with its 435 members. The question is whether Crapo and Bennett can team effectively in the Senate to replace the lost influence of Craig and Domenici once this session is over? A lot is riding on it. Stay tuned.

# # #

South Africa plans to reprocess spent nuclear fuel

casksCurrent inventory is almost 1,200 tons, but a lot more is coming

South Africa, which is planning a major new nuclear build to solve its economically draining power shortages, is also looking at what to do with the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. This week a briefing by the Minerals & Energy Department to Parliament laid out plans to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. South African media reports indicate that Schalk de Waal, told MPs,

"In terms of our nuclear policy, we... favor that process - recycling of used fuel - because it's sustainable, and you can recycle some of the raw materials in the used fuel."

De Wall also acknowledged that nonproliferation concerns had limited the nation's options in the past, but not now.

"However, recently, with the world energy crisis, we believe that the US is changing its position, and are seriously looking into reprocessing great amounts of used fuel in that country."

Relying on U.S. initiatives

He's right about that point. Platts reports this week that U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) introduced legislation to get the U.S. back in the business of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.

The bill, dubbed Strengthening Management of Advanced Recycling Technologies Act, (S. 3215) also would grant DOE and its private sector partners access to about 5% of the $20-billion Nuclear Waste Fund.

Using money from the waste fund would allow construction of spent nuclear fuel recycling facilities without the need for annual congressional appropriations, according to Domenici.

"There can now be no doubt that a nuclear renaissance is underway. Increasing our use of nuclear energy is the only way for America to meet our increasing energy demands while at the same time reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. A sustainable nuclear fuel cycle is the key to nuclear energy reaching its full potential."

Current and future spent fuel inventory

South Africa currently has two nuclear reactors, but it plans to spend aggressively on current PWR technologies and also has a program to design and build the new Pebble Bed reactor. Instead of having a relatively small inventory of about 1,200 tons of spent nuclear fuel, the country could be generating this same amount every few years as its new nuclear plants, five of them in the next decade, come online.

De Waal told the legislative committee recycling was useful, "because you can reprocess... and take out 95 percent of that used fuel and re-use it, and make new fuel for your reactor."

South Africa will also need a high-level waste repository for the remaining 5% of radioactive residuals. Currently, like most other countries, except France, South Africa's long term storage of spent nuclear fuel is in dry casks.

Russian nuclear energy program seeks investors

ironmanKiriyenko needs money and brains to drive the nation's nuclear initiatives

Reuters reports that in an extraordinary reversal Russia's nuclear energy internal new build and export program is now opening itself up to foreign investors. Previously, the Kremlin had decreed that the effort, which was touted to be as large as $25 billion-a-year over the next two decades, would be self-financed by government controlled agencies.

kiriyenko "Russia is prepared to sell stakes of up to 49 percent in its civilian nuclear projects to foreign investors," said Sergei Kiriyenko, (right) head of Russia's atomic energy agency Rosatom.

Russia is looking to build new projects -- two new reactors a year from 2012 to almost double the share of atomic energy to 30 percent by 2030.

"We'd rather make billions of dollars together than hundreds of millions alone," Kiriyenko told an audience of nuclear executives and government officials from around the world at the opening of the nuclear conference Atomcon in Moscow.

Vladimir Putin, Russian prime minister, aims to revive Russia's atomic reputation and formed a new company called Atomenergoprom which owns the civilian sector of the Russian nuclear industry. Rosatom controls Atomenergoprom. It covers the full nuclear cycle, from mining to processing to power. Ominously, it also includes the military's need for nuclear materials.

Atomenergoprom, which has sales of around $8 billion a year, is now open to outside investors Kiriyenko said of projects being developed by the agency, that,

"Previous thinking was that the nuclear industry is closed in Russia. We need to change that."

Why change now?

The Russians have previously excluded foreign investment from their nuclear build out, including uranium mines, fuel fabrication plants, and a national grid of electric transmission lines, despite having an estimated need for 13 trillion rubles in funding over the next few decades, a currency that until last August wasn't fully convertible to western money. The 13 trillion rubles, which sounds like an incomprehensible amount of money, works out to US$520 billion. Over two decades that works out to about $26 billion a year. It's still a lot of money. It's a whole lot more than the U.S. is investing in its new nuclear build.

Span of control problems

The Russians need more than money. They need technical engineering talent and know-how. They also need to change their management structure, and not just in the nuclear ministries.

The Russians are trying to put all of their state-owned nuclear energy activities under a single government roof, but published reports translated by Peter Zimmerman, of Fuel Cycle Week, in Fall 2007 indicate the massive bureaucracy may not be up to the task. According to a Russian assessment reviewed and translated by Zimmerman, the Russians think there are "serious reasons to oppose massive atomic construction at this time." The most important reason is that the Russians can't do it. The assessment says the scale and timeframe of the proposed construction of [10 reactors in eight years] pose "alarming scientific and technological risks." Translation - if you want it bad, you'll get it bad.

Russia wants to build 10 new reactors doubling its generating capacity in the next eight years, but the current level of uranium mining won't cover even half of the needs of these new plants. The likelihood that the Russians will build 10 reactors in the next eight years is about the same as Disneyland opening a new theme park on the planet Jupiter. In the past 50 years the Soviets have built at a much slower rate.

Blending down HEU won't last forever

Russia is blending down its nuclear weapons materials to make reactor fuel, but that's as finite source. Actual uranium mining is said to be about 3,500 tonnes/year while the Russians need about five times that amount. According to source documents in Russian reviewed by Zimmerman, "production capacities are clearly insufficient."

ivanov The Russians know they can't meet their needs for electricity solely from coal. Zimmerman's translations include a statement by First Vice-Premier Sergei Ivanov (right) who gave a blunt assessment in Fall 2007 of the nation's short term needs for nuclear energy.

He said, "there is no alternative [to nuclear energy]. Either we significantly increase it or in the very near future we will be facing an energy deficit." He said the share of nuclear energy in the national grid must grow from 18% in 2015 to 30% by 2030.

Last November the Russian nuclear energy leadership went to Canada to try to coax some investment from that country. Maybe this time Kiriyenko is casting a wider net? Perhaps he's now looking for Arab oil money? Certainly, he'll be calling on sovereign wealth funds? Will they answer?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Turkey to build second nuclear plant

Procurement information to be released in September

ancient byz artThe Turkish news media reports Turkey's Energy and Natural Resources minister announced this week that Turkey is planning to construct its second nuclear power plant in Sinop on the coast of the Black Sea.

Hilmi Güler (left) told reporters the tender for the construction of the power plant would be released next September.

"The dimensions of the second nuclear power plant have not yet been determined, but it will not be smaller than the one to be constructed in Akkuyu," Güler explained. Bids for the first tender will be opened September 24.

He was speaking with the press after attending a conference on energy productivity organized jointly by the General Directorate of Electrical Power Resources Survey and Development Administration (EIE) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Ankara.

Six firms and consortia have received specifications for the tender for the 4,000-megawatt nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, which is the first plant Turkey plans to build. These firms are: Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (Canada), Itochu Corporation (Japan), Vinci Construction Grand Projects (France), Suez Tractebel (France-Belgium), Atostroyexport (Russia) and KEPCO (South Korea).

Prior coverage on this blog

Western lands uranium gopher for June 28, 2008

Mining uranium exploration press releases for useful stuff

(An occasional column on money and mining news items)

gopherThe rise of nuclear energy, a second act if ever there was one, has given the price of uranium a shot in the arm. In western states in the U.S. interest in uranium mining is growing and with it comes another growth industry - the production of press releases about the uranium mining industry. The purpose of this occasional column is to separate the really interesting stuff from promotional fluff.

The choices of the subjects based on what looks interesting to me and for readers. I'm focusing mostly on western states that are "west" of the 100th meridian, but this isn't hard and fast. The states of interest are WY, CO, UT, TX, NM, AZ, & NV. For this reason I call this series the "western lands uranium gopher." These are news notes and the content is not to be considered investment advice.

House Resolution Bans Uranium Mining, Exploration Near Grand Canyon

grandcanyonDemocrats in the House Natural Resources Committee adopted an emergency resolution that requires the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to withdraw 1.1 million acres of federal land near the Grand Canyon National Park from any new uranium mining for the next three years. After Republicans left the meeting room, saying there was no threat to the park, the Natural Resources Committee voted 20 to 2 to adopt the resolution.

H.R. 5583, legislation which was submitted to Congress by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, on March 11, specified that 1,068,908 acres of federal land near the Grand Canyon National Park will be withdrawn from all forms of location, entry and patent under mining laws. More than 3,000 mining claims exist around the rim of the park according to the U.S. Forest Service.

H.R. 5583 targets BLM lands in the Tusayan Ranger District and Federal land managed by BLM in the vicinity of Kanab Creek and in House Rock Valley. It is co-sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz).

Grijalva, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Natural Parks, Forest and Public Lands, in a news release on June 19 declared, "I feel compelled to submit this request for emergency action due to the grave and immediate threat to the Grand Canyon National Park, the crowned jewel of our national park system."

"We cannot wait while uranium claims continued to be filed and the Bush Administration continues to use the exclusionary clause to allow uranium mining exploration and eventual mining operations within public lands in close proximity to the Grand Canyon National Park."

Under this emergency clause, when the Secretary of the Interior determines that an emergency exists or when either of the two congressional committees specified in section 204 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLMPA) notifies the Secretary that an emergency exists, the Secretary must immediately make a withdrawal which shall be limited in scope and duration to the emergency.

The Associated Press reported the resolution would have no effect on the more than 10,000 claims already secured on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service property near the park, according to the Interior Department. A spokesman for the agency said it would weigh its next steps, given that a 1983 Justice Department opinion found similar resolutions to be unconstitutional.

Republicans, encouraged by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, left the room in protest before the vote. Bishop said the resolution "crossed over the line" and addressed a "supposed emergency that does not exist." "In essence, I'm leaving this committee," said Bishop. "I will not be part of this process."

The Nuclear Energy Institute in a letter sent to the committee accused lawmakers of mischaracterizing uranium mining practices and hampering clean energy development.

"Those practices do not cause cancer or debilitating illness, they are extensively regulated, and they are not a threat to the environment," wrote Alex Flint, the institute's senior vice president for governmental affairs.

House gives the controversy a belt and suspenders

Last April a federal judge issued an injunction against the British mining firm VANE Minerals and the Kaibab National Forest, halting uranium exploration on public lands within a few miles of Grand Canyon National Park.

The order came after a hearing in a case brought by three conservation groups - Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Grand Canyon Trust - to challenge drilling taking place close to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River without a public hearing and environmental review.

"This order stops uranium exploration on the banks of a national treasure," said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Forest Service had allowed drilling to begin while the case was pending, so the order comes as a major relief. We're elated."

In December, the Kaibab National Forest approved exploratory uranium drilling by VANE Minerals at up to 39 locations across seven project sites just south of the Grand Canyon. The approval was granted using a "categorical exclusion," the least rigorous public and environmental review available to the agency under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Black Range gets permit for Canon City Drilling

Black Range minerals, which earlier this year had to delay planned drilling in the Taylor Ranch area of the Tallahassee mining district near Canon City, Colo., finally received a conditional use permit from the Fremont County Commissioners on June 9. The Commissioners voted 3-0 to allow the firm to drill 800 exploration holes in an 8,169 acre tract. The drilling program became controversial because over the past decade new residential subdivisions had encroached on the historic mining district.

Jim Hawklee, president of the local community association, said the group plans to file a lawsuit to stop the planned drilling citing potential threats to water, roads, and a “rural way of life.”

Black Range minerals managing director Michael Hayes said in a statement to the commissioners that the company was offering to set up free monitoring of local wells used for drinking water to insure no uranium seeped in.

Black Range Minerals is an Australian Stock Exchange-listed resources company. It's near-term objective in the U.S. is production. The company reports it has delineated a JORC Code compliant (Australasian Joint Ore Reserves Committee) resource base of almost 80 million pounds of U3O8 at its Taylor Ranch Uranium Project. This includes approximately 22 million pounds of high grade U3O8 which the Company is looking to develop in the near term. At $60/lb the resource could be worth $1.3 billion.

The Company holds interests in two other uranium projects which are the Cyclone Rim and Eagle in Wyoming. They are operating through a joint venture with Uranerz Energy Corp. The Cyclone Rim project comprises 1,720 acres. The project was started in June 2007.

Black Range has the right to earn a 50% equity interest in the projects by managing and meeting the first $750,000 in exploration expenditures on the projects. Black Range is obliged to spend at least $100,000 per year on exploration on the projects and to spend the first $750,000 on exploration within three years of inception of the joint venture agreement. It is expected that depth of the mineralization will run from 75 feet down to about 400 feet depending upon which roll front is targeted. ISR mining is expected to be the method used for extracting uranium should production be planned for the site.

Environmental groups form western states coalition to block uranium mining

Representatives from multiple environmental groups in four states met in the Ft. Collins, Colo., area in June to form an “anti-uranium coalition” according to one of the participants.

Representatives from the five groups, South Dakota-based ACTion for the Environment, the Western Nebraska Resources Council, Save Our South Park Water, the Tallahassee Area Community from Fremont County, and Northern Colorado-based Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction, all spoke out against their perceived common enemy which are uranium mining companies.

The five representatives spoke out against proposed in-situ leach mining. A key target is Canadian uranium company, Powertech which has proposed operating an ISR mine in Nunn, Colo.

Their argument is that uranium mining will lead to water and land contamination, although the participants from areas with mining activity reportedly had few specific examples of the effects in their areas.

There was no indication in a news media report of the meeting that anyone in the group understood that underground rock formations attractive for an ISR mine have, by definition, groundwater that is unsuitable for potable uses. Instead, the group relied on reports from mining that took place several decades ago.

“We’ve seen increases in arsenic and other heavy metals and uranium in the water supplies, as well as at stream level,” said Buffalo Bruce who is with Western Nebraska Resources Council. He qualified his remarks adding that those impacts come from uranium mines in western Nebraska from decades ago that were not properly taken care of.

All the members in attendance, which took place at Mustang Hollow Ranch northwest of Nunn, said public opinion is overwhelmingly against opening uranium mines in the area.

Jim Hawklee, president of the Tallahassee Area Community, located in Canon City, Colo., told the group exploratory drilling can lead to water contamination. He was referring to work which is now being undertaken by Black Range Minerals after it received a conditional use permit from Fremont County Commissioners on June 9.

U.S. agencies to continue clean up of uranium on Navajo land

The federal government has committed to spending tens of millions of dollars to clean up contamination from old uranium mines on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona. The new five-year plan will also address sites in New Mexico and Utah. The act was billed as a “good step forward” by a spokesman for the tribe.

“It is a significant step, but there is still a long road ahead of us,” said Steve Etsitty, director of the Navajo Nation environmental agency in a statement to the Arizona Republic.

He said the government still hasn’t said what methods it will use to conduct the cleanup nor how it plans to pay for it. Last October the Navajo Nation asked Congress for $500 million for cleanup of 500 abandoned mines and four inactive mill sites.

A spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency disputed these remarks. Clancy Tenley said the agency has already spent $153 million on cleanup of abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo reservation and will spend $7 million in 2008. He added that under the new plan the agency will provide the Navajo Nation with $34 million in grants for new public water facilities.

From 1944 to 1986 more than 4 million tons of uranium were mined from sites on the Navajo reservation. David Taylor, an attorney with the Navajo Nation, said the tribe wants justice in addition to cleanup. “The first step is acknowledgement of fault,” he said.

Bluerock to exploit Patti Ann uranium stock pile

Bluerock Resources Ltd. announced that a Letter of Intent (LOI) was signed with Uranium One Inc. to exploit the Patti Ann uranium mine surface stockpile, Lisbon Valley, Utah. This material will be included in Bluerock's White Mesa Milling Agreements with Denison Mines Corp.

Uranium One payment terms include 100,000 Bluerock shares and 20% of the net revenue of the Patti Ann uranium stockpile. The company must complete the first shipment to the White Mesa Mill within one year to maintain the lease in good standing. The last recorded trade of Bluerock's stock (CDNX: BRD.V) on June 20 was $0.42/share within a 52-week range of $0.28-0.90. At this price the stock in the deal is worth $42,000.

The Patti Ann uranium stockpile contains a historic resources of 92,000 tons of uranium enriched broken rock with an average grade of 0.09% U3O8, as reported by US Energy Corp. At this level, the resource could include up to 16.5 million pounds U3O8. At $60/pound, the resource could be worth up to $990 million. A 20% payment to Uranium One could be worth about $200 million if all the resource was realized in production.

"The Patti Ann LOI has reduced Bluerock's production and cost risk profile and will provide the company with increased flexibility for delivery into its White Mesa Milling Agreement," said Bluerock President & CEO Michael Collins. "Bluerock's access to the only operating conventional uranium mill in the USA has uniquely benefited the company's ability to add near term production assets to its existing portfolio."

The Patti Ann Mine and stockpile are located on Federal land approximately 60 miles from the White Mesa Mill in the Lisbon Valley, southwest Utah. Bluerock has started permitting exploitation of the stockpile for material assessment and transport to the White Mesa Mill.

Bluerock to build new mill in Emery County, Utah

Emery County, Utah, officials have signed an agreement with a Canadian company to build a $100 million uranium mill just west of Green River. The mill would be the first tenant in a new industrial park made possible through a lease of 2,547 acres west of Green River with the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

Stephen Glass, vice president of environmental affairs for Mancos Resources Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of British Columbia-based Bluerock Resources Ltd., said the $100 million mill would be modern, green and provide good jobs. It will produce yellowcake uranium to fill a growing shortfall of nuclear reactor fuel, Glass said.

"If today it isn't a bottleneck," he said of the uranium market, "in five years it will be."

Mancos has been expanding its holdings in the area as uranium prices have risen in recent years. The Green River mill would process about 1,200 tons of ore each day and produce about 2.4 tons of yellowcake. North America has just two uranium mills, one about 130 miles away in Blanding. That mill starved for uranium for more than a decade before being revived by higher uranium prices in the past few years.

Sarah Fields, program director for the Moab-based advocacy group Uranium Watch, said Green River and Grand County residents have concerns. The mill will generate air pollution and will put agricultural lands at risk, she said.

"A uranium mill will have a negative impact on the economics of Green River," she said, noting the area's dependence on agriculture and recreation.

Whirlwind mine gets public comments

BLM has closed the comment period on the federal agency’s environmental assessment of the plans by Energy Fuels Resources Corp. to reopen the Whirlwind mine near Grand Junction, Colo. The new mine will be a combined operation on 4,980 acres of the old Packrat and Urantah Decline mines which straddle the Colorado-Utah border.

The firm reportedly wants to mine up to 200 tons of ore per day by 2010 from the site, which is five miles from Gateway, Colo, and truck it to the White Mesa Mill at Blanding, Utah. Initial operations will be 100 tons per day. The mine will employ 24 people. The estimated resource at the mine is 657,000 pounds of uranium and 2.17 million pounds of vanadium. At $60/pound the uranium is potentially worth $37 million. At $20/lb the vanadium is potentially worth $43 million.

So far BLM has received 48 comments, mostly from local residents, and have to do with trucking operations on along Highway 141 and John Brown Road. In December the Mesa County Commissioners approved a conditional use permit for the Whirlwind mine with specific requirements about the timing and frequency of truck traffic from the mine on local roads.

According to a Colorado State Department of Transportation map of allowable weights on state highway bridges, a bridge near Uravan on Rt. 141 in Mesa County has a maximum capacity per three axle unit of 53,000-to-60,000 pounds. If the trucks use a combination of a triple-axle unit and a transfer trailer with another triple-axle unit, the combined weight could be 106,000-to 120,000 pounds of which approximately two-thirds would be ore.

If the mine produces 100 tons/day of ore, it would require three truck loads per day using this configuration to move the ore to a mill at Blanding, Utah. It’s 135 miles by state highways from Gateway, Colo, to Blanding, Utah, which means a truck could make the run once a day in good weather. However, operations would be limited in winter by cold, snow, and icy road conditions.

The outcome is that the mine would need three trucks making a run once a day to move 100 tons/day of ore. If Energy Fuels is able to open its planned mill at Naturita, Colo, three years from now, the distance is only 53 miles from Gateway which would allow two runs per day. Canon City Colo is 280 miles to the east which may mean, with diesel fuel priced at $4.50/gallon, it might not be economical to ship ore to that mill if it reopened.

Energy Fuels hopes to build the Pinion Ridge mill on 880 private acres between Naturita and Paradox, in Montrose County. In a recent presentation to the Northwest Mining Association Convention, Energy Fuels Vice President-Corporate Marketing, Gary R. Steele, said the rapid development of the Piñon Ridge Mill site can be attributed to licensing authority of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), instead of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission Colorado is an Agreement State external link, to which NRC relinquishes the authority to license uranium mills.

The mill, he said, could employ about 100 people and process uranium and vanadium from mines all over the Western Slope. Other small mines in the region could be on the way, he said. It will take about two years for the state to license the mill, and nine months for Energy Fuels to build it, he said.

Initial engineering studies indicate the Piñon Ridge Mill will be designed with a capacity of 1,000 tons per day of ore throughput. At historical U3O8 grades typical for the region, this mill will be designed to produce between 1.6 million and 2.0 million pounds of U3O8 per year.

Steele estimated the planned mill site is large enough for more than 30 years of tailings disposal resulting in more than 10 million tons of tailings.

Powertech pursues drilling in Aladdin area of South Dakota

Mark Hollenbeck, project manger for Powertech’s Aladdin mine in southwest South Dakota told a public meeting in June sponsored by state agencies in South Dakota it plans an ISR operation on minerals claims over a 13,600 acre site. In response to questions from area residents, he said the firm was not engaged in “water mining,” and that the project isn’t scheduled to go into production for another two-to-three years.

In 2007 Powertech completed 60 rotary drill holes which totaled 26,680 feet, confirmed the presence of uranium mineralization in the area of the historical drilling and expanded these mineralized trends outside of the historic drilling area.

The historical drilling area is defined by 581 drill hole logs and unsurveyed drill hole location maps obtained from Teton Exploration. Of the total 16 of the drill holes intersected uranium mineralization in excess of 0.05% eU3O8.

Geovic updates plans for ISR mine in Weld County

Geovic minng plans a second ISR mine near Nunn, Colo., in Weld county located in northeast Colorado. For months Powertech Mining has taken political heat over its proposed mine in the same area. However, Geovic’s has not attracted nearly the same interest despite being considerably larger and it will use the same ISR methods. John Sherborne, CEO, told the Greeley Tribune in his more than 30 years of uranium mining he hasn’t seen a controversy like the one that hit Powertech. He said his firm was very quiet about its $2.8 million acquisition of mineral rights on 16,000 acres in Weld County.

He’s been here before and says he knows there is uranium in them thar hills. Sherborne was with Unocal in the 1970s which conducted exploration of uranium deposits in Weld County.

“The bottom fell out of the market before any mining took place,” Sherborne said, “but we know the uranium is there.”

He said the firm is just getting started on the permitting process which will require permission to get into production from the county, and from state, and federal agencies. He declined to put an estimate on the timeframe, but said it could be a minimum of two-to-three years.

As far as the threat of environmental contamination is concerned, a driving force that delayed Powertech’s plans, Sherborne said, “We’re very familiar with what’s up there in northeast Weld and have no intentions of doing anything that will harm the area.”

Geovic is based in Grand Junction, Colo. The primary focus of the company, until now, has been production of cobalt located at a large mine in Cameroon, on the west coast of Africa, about 640 kilometers east from the seaport of Douala.

URI Delays production

Uranium Resources Inc., reported a delay in the startup of a South Texas project.

The company's Rosita wellfield encountered "aquifer-related technical issues," the company said, adding that it expects the issues to be resolved in "the next couple of weeks."

URI also said its 2008 uranium production through the end of May was 140,000 pounds. As a result of the delay in the Rosita wellfield startup, the company's second-quarter production is expected to total about 80,000 to 90,000 pounds. At $60/pound the production for the quarter could be worth $4.8-5.4 million.

URI backs out of deal for NM mill

The Associated Press reports a Texas mining company, blaming sliding uranium prices and the difficulty of getting financing, backed out of a deal that could have led to the first uranium mill in the Grants, NM, area in two decades.

Uranium Resources Inc. agreed last Oct. 12 to buy Rio Algom Mining from Australian mining company BHP Billiton Ltd.

"The problem is that the market has changed since the time we signed this," Rick Van Horn, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Uranium Resources, said.

He described the decision by both companies to terminate the deal as "a temporary setback." Uranium is down to $57 per pound on the spot market, about half the $120 per-pound price when Uranium Resources and BHP signed their first agreement last July, Van Horn said. "It's really tanked on us," he said.

One of Rio Algom's main assets is a uranium mine mill site in northwestern New Mexico's Ambrosia Lake District, about 20 miles north of Grants, a town once known as "the Uranium Capital of the World."

Uranium Resources planned to use the site to build a facility which could have become the largest uranium mill in the United States. The old Kerr McGee mill there was torn down in 2003.

While Van Horn believes Rio Algom had the best site, it's possible other locations could be developed, he said. Those would take longer because Uranium Resources would have to acquire water rights and a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — things Rio Algom had.

Changes in the equities market and the sluggish economy also played a part in terminating the deal, Van Horn said. "Going out and raising $180 million (to finance the acquisition) would have been next to impossible," he said.

Uranium Resources owns 183,000 acres of uranium mineral holdings in the Grants region. About half could be mined with newer, in-situ recovery technology, while the rest could be recovered with underground mines and a conventional mill such as the proposal at Rio Algom, Van Horn said.

Midasco gets option on Centennial Sun-Cup Mine Complex

Midasco Uranium LLC has entered into an Option Agreement with B-Mining Company ("BMC"), a Colorado Corporation, to purchase the Centennial Sun-Cup Mine Complex ("CSC Project") along with 27 mining claims encompassing 540 acres in San Miguel County, Colorado. The mine is located in the Salt Wash Member of the Morrison Formation, and is on the northeast limb of the Dolores Anticline, located in the southern portion of the Uravan Mineral Belt.

Midasco has an exclusive option to purchase the property until January 15th, 2009, at which point the company is required to pay to BMC US$160,000 as advanced royalty each year for five years.

North American Uranium Corporation initially discovered the Sun-Cup deposit in the late 1960s, and mining commenced in 1970. The nearby Centennial deposit to the southwest of the Sun-Cup Mine was discovered by Minerals Recovery Corporation ("MRC"), a division of Wisconsin Public Service.

Due to depressed uranium prices, MRC's large-scale operations at the mine ceased in the early 1980s, whereby B-Mining Company (BMC) of Nucla, Colorado acquired the CSC Project in the early 1980s and mined periodically until 1998. Production to date is estimated to have exceeded 1 million pounds of uranium and 10,000,000 pounds of vanadium. The last recorded 5,000 ton shipment of ore from the CSC Project averaged 0.22% uranium and 1.73% vanadium (uranium to vanadium ratio of 1:8).

UR-Energy drilling at Bootheel property

Ur-Energy Inc announced the commencement of the 2008 drilling program at the Bootheel Property in southern Wyoming. The Bootheel Property is a jopint venture with Target Exploration and Mining Corp. Target is the operator and is currently earning a 75% interest in the Project.

Following its preliminary compilation and analysis of the existing historic database in late 2007, Target's plan for the 2008 program consists of approximately 50,000 feet of drilling in 80 to 90 holes. The primary objective for the year is to prepare a National Instrument 43-101 compliant resource estimate.

Artha Resources plans exploration

Vancouver, B.C.-based Artha Resources Corp. has started phase one of a uranium exploration program in Wyoming.

The principal goal is to define in-situ recoverable resources and confirm historical resources in key districts. Areas of interest are in the Shirley Basin, the Powder River Basin and the Wind River Basin.

Calypso sets option agreement with EMI

Calypso announced it has entered into an option agreement with EM International Inc. ("EMI") to acquire a 50% interest in approximately 390 unpatented lode mining mineral claims with in situ recovery ("ISR") potential located in Converse County, Wyo, and known as the Sage Creek claims.

The Sage Creek claims comprise approximately 6,250 acres on the Smith Ranch trend. The Sage Creek claims surround a water well previously drilled by a coal operator on the property that reportedly encountered two uranium roll-front gamma log signatures which were not pursued by the coal company.

The option agreement provides Calypso with the option to expend a total of $1,000,000 over a two year period and to issue a total of 1,000,000 shares to EMI in two tranches of 500,000 shares to earn an undivided 50% interest in the claims.

Calypso's stock (CDNX: CLP.V) on market close June 20 was trading below its 52-week range of $0.40-1.45 at $0.29/share. At this price the total of shares in the agreement would be worth $290,000 at the current share price.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

McCain Obama square off over nuclear energy

boxing pictogramNevada is the place to go if you want an anti-nuclear crowd

Republican presidential candidate John McCain made lots of news last week in an speech about energy policy in which he called for the construction of 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, predictably, saw this as a chip on McCain's shoulder and flew to Nevada to knock it off by basking in in the warm applause of people who on reflex are opposed to anything that smacks of nuclear energy. The reason is it invariably has the Yucca Mountain project tied to it.

yucca mtn Obama isn't the first Democrat to exploit Nevada's opposition to Yucca Mountain. Hillary Clinton also traveled this same road which is no surprise since Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid is from Nevada.

Politics is a contact sport and McCain knows how to land a blow. The Democrats, with anti-nuclear green groups in their corner, have walked a difficult path when it comes to nuclear energy. McCain pointed out that Obama is from a state which is already heavily invested in nuclear energy.

"One obstacle to expanding our nuclear-powered electricity is the mindset of those who prefer to buy time and hope that our energy problems will somehow solve themselves,'' McCain said, noting that Obama's home state of Illinois has more nuclear reactors than any other."

In response Obama told a rally in Nevada the Republican candidate lacked a plan for storage of the waste. It was among several energy-strategy ideas, including a massive increase on offshore drilling, that Obama said were "not serious energy policies."

Even after he left Nevada, Obama still had the nuclear issue on his mind. Asked his views on nuclear power in Jacksonville, Florida on Friday last week, Obama said,

"I think that nuclear power should be in the mix when it comes to energy.I don't think it's our optimal energy source because we haven't figured out how to store the waste safely or recycle the waste."

Message for presidential candidate Obama -- no energy source is "optimal." This is fence straddling at its finest. And I'm not letting McCain off the hook. Saying you want to build 45 nuclear plants is one thing, doing it is quite another.

Environmental groups also got into the act saying that no utility will put its own financing into building a plant unless the federal government "lavishly subsidizes it."

"Wall Street won't invest in these plants because they are too expensive and unreliable, so Senator McCain wants to shower the nuclear industry with billions of dollars of taxpayer handouts," said Daniel Weiss, who heads the global warming program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a liberal research group.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain's chief domestic policy adviser, said McCain had arrived at the goal of 45 as consistent with his desire to expand nuclear power, "but not so large as to be infeasible given permitting and construction times."

NRC Licensing schedulesClearly, both sides a dreaming. Loan guarantees are not "lavish subsidies," and Mr. Weiss has neglected to talk to the NRC about the license applications piling up at its doorstep.

McCain's advisors also have probably never been near the construction schedule for a nuclear power plant and are doing a fine job proving the axiom that politicians are always more optimistic than engineers.

It's campaign seasons so rhetoric will fly carelessly disregarding reality and it will only be after the election that one or the other will have to save the planet and keep the lights on.

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Fear of nuclear energy

Stanford professor says we need to get over it.

Hat tip to Mark Lazen at the Energy Collective

KrugerPaul Kruger, professor emeritus (right) at Stanford, believes that we need to get over our fear of nuclear energy. With nuclear energy, Paul says, we can relatively quickly move away from fossil fuel based transport to electric or hydrogen transport. In fact, Paul is a big proponent of hydrogen as is evident in his book "Alternative Energy Resources: The Quest for Sustainable Energy."

In this video interview, Luke Leaver, a student of Margot Gerritsen, a faculty member in the Department of Energy Resources Engineering at Stanford University, talks to Paul about the reluctance in the US to use nuclear energy, how to overcome these fears and why he sees nuclear energy as a big part of the solution.

This video was created for a term project in the course on renewable energy that Prof. Gerritsen teaches with her colleague Tony Kovscek at Stanford in the spring.

More info and energy videos at

Smart Energy web site

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Laser enrichment gets a boost

Cameco takes 24% stake in GE Hitachi unit

CamecoGE Hitachi and Cameco Corp, (CCO:TO) the world's largest uranium producer, have announced that Cameco will invest $124 million for a 24% stake in the business unit that is developing a laser enrichment technology. Cameco will also supply uranium to the unit enabling GE Hitachi to buy and enrich uranium for sale as commercial fuel for civilian nuclear reactors.

The 24% share worth $124 million, is combined with a 51% share by GE-Hitachi joint venture, and the remaining 25% share directly owned by Hitachi. These numbers suggest a total project cost in the range of $516 million. These costs likely represent R&D, test loop facility, licensing, and other pre-commercial activities.

GE is planning a big plant. Areva's recently announced Idaho plant, estimated to cost $2 billion, is expected to supply 3 million SWU or half the capacity of the GE plant at full production. The full-scale GE plant, expected to supply 3.5-6.0 million SWU, will require additional investor commitments.

The GE commercial facility will be built in Wilmington, NC, assuming the firm gives it a green light. The GE nuclear fuel plant would supply customers of GE-Hitachi's nuclear reactors as well as others.

30 Second Take Away

First, it gets Cameco into the next stages of the nuclear fuel cycle without having to be tied down by a protracted process of authorizing uranium enrichment in Canada.

Second, it gets GE into vertical integration for the nuclear fuel cycle (fuel, reactors, spent fuel) with a reliable source of uranium without having to invest directly in mines.

Third, it positions GE to be a reliable fuel supplier not only for its own reactors but also to the global market.

Cameco joins money with marketing

Cameco told Reuters it is using existing credit facilities to fund its investment in the North Carolina-based operation and does not expect to incur further development or commercialization expenses until 2010.

Cameco also agreed to jointly market uranium and enrichment services to meet customer demand for bundled services. Demand for enriched uranium is projected to increase significantly in the next decade with the construction of new nuclear power plants, Cameco said.

grandey cameco"This investment further expands and integrates Cameco's interests in the nuclear fuel cycle as we pursue our objective to be a leading nuclear energy company, producing uranium fuel and generating clean electricity," said Cameco Chief Executive Jerry Grandey (right) in a statement.

Connecting the stages of the fuel-cycle value chain

GE_logo Lisa Price, SVP for the nuclear-fuel cycle at GE told the Wall Street Journal the deal with Cameco offers both companies "the opportunity to provide [both] uranium and enrichment to customers."

She also said the decision to go ahead with a full-scale facility could be made as early as 2009 with a start-up operations expected in 2012. Full-scale production would come later.

World Nuclear News published an analysis that pointed out that currently most nuclear power utilities buy their fuel by sourcing uranium, conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication services from different companies across the globe. Only France's Areva can offer every service. GE's Price said integration in the fuel cycle was an "important long-term growth strategy" for GLE.

Last October Exelon and Entergy, two of the United States’ largest nuclear utilities, signed letters of intent to contract for uranium enrichment services from GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH). As part of the deal, the two utilities will provide GEH with technical support for facility licensing of the development of a commercial-scale, production facility. GE has already begun the licensing process with the NRC.

GE-Hitachi now has an assured source of uranium and a major investor. Cameco and some of its mining operations are located in Saskatchewan. In addition to mining the firm is also involved in uranium conversion which changes uranium oxide to a gaseous form (uranium hexafluoride) which is the feedstock for the enrichment process.

Brad Wall, the provincial leader in Saskatchewan, launched an initiative last March to develop uranium enrichment capabilities there. To be successful his efforts will require some very high level diplomatic hand waving among G-8 countries. In the meantime, Cameco has a near-term commercial opportunity and doesn't have to wait for the striped pants set to make up their minds. Wall may get a plant eventually, but even if the political barriers are overcome, which is likely, getting investors and the technology may take up to a decade.

A new enrichment technology comes to market

GE-Hitachi Laser Enrichment (GLE) has exclusive rights to develop, commercialize and launch the technology on a global basis under an agreement inked in 2006 with the original developer, the Australian company Silex Systems Ltd. The next important milestone for the technology is the test loop phase, which is anticipated to begin in late 2008. The test loop process is intended to verify performance and reliability data necessary to support the construction of a commercial-scale enrichment facility.

uranium conversion While the specific technical details of the laser enrichment process are closely guarded secrets, GE-Hitachi said in a fact sheet on its web site the general approach is different than the gas centrifuge technology which will be used in Areva's recently announced plant in Idaho.

Uranium hexafluoride is vaporized into a gaseous form and exposed to a laser beam that preferentially excites the 235UF6 isotope, which enables separation of natural uranium into enriched and depleted uranium. The process operation, while technically complex, is potentially more efficient than existing second-generation centrifuge enrichment technology.

The construction of the test loop is already underway at GEH’s existing technology site in Wilmington, NC. Final design and procurement activities for equipment for the test loop demonstration are also underway. The GLE test loop is intended to confirm full-scale facility parameters required for the construction of the full-scale commercial facility.

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