Reactor-builder Babcock & Wilcox Co. is a joint-venture partner in a new company that will manufacture centrifuge machines that are used to enrich uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power production. American Centrifuge Manufacturing LLC will be a co-owned by B&W and USEC Inc., and located at USEC’s American Centrifuge Manufacturing Center in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
USEC Inc. supplies enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power plants. Its American Centrifuge plant in Piketon, Ohio, is the only U.S.-owned uranium enrichment plant in the United States. It supplies one-third of the fuel requirements for the U.S. commercial nuclear power industry. American Centrifuge uses a uranium-enrichment technology originally developed by the U.S. Department of Energy and significantly improved by USEC using updated materials and manufacturing methods.
A new centrifuge plant is planned in Piketon, but construction has slowed while USEC waits for a $2-billion DOE loan guarantee that it seeks to support the project.
In general, centrifuges are hollow cylindrical rotors in which gaseous uranium hexafluoride (UF6) is processed to concentrate the heavier U238 molecules to closer to the wall of the rotor, producing partial separation of the U235 and U238 isotopes. The UF6 feed material is introduced near the middle of the rotor, and enriched and depleted streams are removed near the ends. The desired enrichment level cannot be achieved in one centrifuge, so several machines are linked together, and a centrifuge enrichment plant is comprised of numerous arrangements of these linked centrifuges.
American Centrifuge Manufacturing will perform precision machining of centrifuge components and build a reported 11,500 centrifuge machines annually, as well as administer the supply chain of suppliers and subcontractors supporting the program. It will be responsible for deliveries to the Piketon plant and final assembly of the centrifuge machines there. Also, ACM will deliver spare parts and provide maintenance support services for centrifuge machines at the American Centrifuge Plant under a long-term service agreement.
The value of the joint-venture investment has not been revealed. The partner’s shares in the venture also are unknown.
“The formation of ACM brings a new focus on full integration of key manufacturing and assembly operations that support the American Centrifuge Plant,” stated B&W Technical Services Group president. “Completion of this initiative illustrates B&W’s continuing role in supporting the commercial nuclear industry’s need for a reliable fuel source.”