General Electric-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC (GLE) has been granted a licence by the US nuclear regulator to construct and operate a uranium enrichment plant using laser technology. The facility, if built, will be the first of its kind, using lasers conceived by Australian technology company SILEX and developed by GLE technologists.

The licence, applied for in June 2009 and issued by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission on 25 September, authorises GLE to enrich uranium up to 8 percent by weight in the fissile isotope U-235. It will allow the enrichment plant to produce up to 6 million single work units (SWU) per year in the United States, GE-Hitachi said. The low-enriched uranium produced will be used in fuel for commercial nuclear power reactors.

The NRC granted the licence following its safety and environmental reviews of the proposed facility. The final safety evaluation report and environmental impact statement, published in February 2012, confirmed that the facility complies with NRC regulations, would not pose an undue risk to the health and safety of workers or the public, and that there would be no significant environmental impacts that would preclude licensing the facility.

GLE plans to construct the plant on the 1600-acre site of GE-Hitachi’s headquarters, and site of the existing Global Nuclear Fuel-America’s fuel fabrication plant in Wilmington, North Carolina. However, the company says that a commercial decision still needs to be made on whether to go ahead with the project. “This decision will be based on several factors,” GEH said.

Commenting on the licence award, Chris Monetta, president and CEO of Global Laser Enrichment said: “The technology we’ve developed could be one of the keys to the nation’s long-term energy security. At a minimum, it could provide a steady supply of uranium enriched right here in the US to the country’s nuclear reactors.