In radio interview he raises questions about GE-Hitachi’s new laser enrichment process
This blog post is an edited version of an article published in Fuel Cycle Week V9:N377, May 20, 2010, by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC.
Gregory Jaczko, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), may be breaking new ground for review of GE-Htiachi's planned laser enrichment when he said in a radio interview April 12 that national security issues need to be considered before a license would be issued by agency for construction of a plant in Wilmington, NC. In raising the issue it is unclear whether he sailed past the outer buoy of NRC’s statutory authority without realizing it or is intentionally headed into deeper waters.
Jaczko's remarks came in response to questions posed on National Public Radio concerning a paper published March 4 in the science journal Nature by Francis Slakey, a physicist at Georgetown University, and Linda Cohen, a law professor at University of California. They wrote that the laser enrichment process is easier to implement, uses less electricity, and has a smaller facility footprint making it easier to hide from international inspections. The authors raised the issue in the Nature article whether the NRC "should consider proliferation issues in the licensing process" for the laser enrichment process.
In his radio interview, Jaczko appeared to buy into some of the arguments raised in the Nature paper. He said with the GLE application the NRC is looking at a new type of enrichment technology. The government has to insure, from a national security perspective, there is adequate protection of technologies and materials.
However, he tempered his remarks by cautioning the NRC should not "change the rules in the middle of the game." Also, he demurred when asked by Richard Harris of NPR if the technology is "too dangerous" to be allowed in the U.S.
GE Hitachi officials responded to NPR via email that the U.S. government had previously approved the acquisition of the SILEX technology from Australia which addressed nonproliferation concerns. The email also questioned the addition of the nonproliferation issue to the licensing review process.
The NRC is on record as disclaiming any authority to consider nuclear nonproliferation impacts from a licensing process. In a letter written March 15, Michael Weber, Director of the NRC Office of Nuclear Material Safety explained to Tom Clements of Friends of the Earth that,
"The NRC considers nuclear nonproliferation . . . to be outside the scope of the agency's statutory responsibilities." After citing several key statutes, include the Atomic Energy Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Weber went on to deny Clements' request for a nuclear nonproliferation impact assessment of the GLE technology.
Test loop success reported
GE's Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) project reported April 12 the initial phase of the test loop had been completed successfully at its Wilmington site. The testing process began in July 2009. The firm is now looking at design approaches to build a three-to-six million SWU facility.
In June 2009 GLE submitted its combined construction and operating license application to the NRC. It was docketed in January 2010. The published NRC schedule indicates a license could be issued by early 2012.
GLE owns 51% of the project. Hitachi owns 25%, and Canadian uranium producer Cameco owns 24%.
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