Centrus Energy Corp. (formerly USEC Inc.) Gas Centrifuge Enrichment Facility Licensing

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Gas Centrifuge Deployment

Centrus' objective is to build upon the existing U.S. technology and reduce costs using advances in carbon fiber and other material and manufacturing technologies. Centrus' program consists of three phases:

  1. a demonstration entirely under DOE auspices and regulatory control;
  2. the American Centrifuge Lead Cascade; and
  3. the commercial deployment of the American Centrifuge Plant (ACP).

The demonstration phase, which is primarily being conducted by Centrus in Oak Ridge, TN, is intended to provide detailed test data for the gas centrifuge machines.

The Lead Cascade, which is currently being decommissioned, was intended to provide reliability information on a group of machines and the auxiliary systems as they would be used in commercial operations. The Lead Cascade, consisting of up to 240 centrifuges, recycled the enriched and depleted uranium it produced. The only uranium withdrawals from the cascade were in the form of small samples. In February 2003, USEC Inc. submitted its license application for the Lead Cascade to the NRC. After conducting detailed safety, security, and environmental reviews, the NRC granted USEC Inc. (the company at the time) a license for the Lead Cascade in February 2004. The license was subsequently transferred to American Centrifuge Operating, LLC and then to Centrus Energy Corp. USEC Inc. began operating the Lead Cascade in August of 2006.

In the commercial deployment phase, the commercial ACP would have a capacity of 3.8 million separative work units (SWU) per year, with an upper U-235 enrichment limit of 10 percent. USEC Inc. submitted a license application for the ACP in August 2004. The NRC licensed the ACP in April 2007.

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The American Centrifuge Plant - Application Review

USEC Inc. submitted an application to the NRC for the American Centrifuge Plant on August 23, 2004. On October 7, 2004, the Commission issued an Order initiating the USEC Inc. proceeding for the ACP. The Order offered an opportunity for a hearing, provided a licensing schedule, and addressed several policy issues applicable to uranium enrichment facility licensing. Consistent with the Commission's Order, the staff developed an ACP License Review Schedule to ensure that important milestones were met in a timely manner.

Safety and Security Licensing Review

On February 7, 2005, NRC completed its initial technical safety and security reviews of the license application for the proposed American Centrifuge Plant and issued a request for additional information (RAI) to USEC Inc. On March 9, 2005, USEC Inc. provided responses to the RAIs. The NRC documented its safety and security reviews in a safety evaluation report that was issued on September 11, 2006.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board held its mandatory hearing in March 2007, and rendered its decision authorizing the staff to issue a license for the ACP in April 2007. The staff issued the license on April 13, 2007.

Environmental Review

The NRC developed, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for "major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment." Licensing a uranium enrichment facility is considered a "major Federal action" requiring an EIS. For more information about the NEPA and the environmental review process, see Frequently Asked Questions about NRC's Role under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The staff held multiple public meetings and considered the public’s comments as part of the process. The staff's environmental review was documented in "Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio" which was published in April 2006.

Additionally, the NRC completed its NEPA review with the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 consultation requirements as outlined in 36 CFR Part 800.8. The NRC consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). On November 1, 2005, the NRC provided the FWS with its finding of "no effect" on listed species and critical habitat. The FWS provided its concurrence on November 16, 2005.

Additional Information

Historical Licensing Documents for the ACP provided a summary of the licensing process. The document included references to documents integral to the licensing process—including requests for information and the license applicant responses—and the public comments considered during the environmental review. Information related to public meetings held between 2004 and 2008 was included. The ACP Application Review Schedule and communication between the NRC and ACP were referenced to ensure openness and transparency in the licensing process.

The Lead Cascade - Application Review

USEC Inc. submitted an application for the Lead Cascade facility on February 11, 2003. On January 27, 2004, a Notice containing the "Finding of No Significant Impact" and an announcement of the availability of the Environmental Assessment for USEC Inc.'s license application for its Lead Cascade Facility was published in the Federal Register. The Safety Evaluation Report for this facility was issued on January 28, 2004. The NRC issued Material License SNM-7003 to USEC Inc. for this facility on February 24, 2004, after DOE approved the lease on February 17, 2004, allowing USEC Inc. to refurbish and subsequently operate the facility in accordance with its license application.

On August 25, 2006, the NRC assumed regulatory oversight of the Lead Cascade facility from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in accordance with the March 24, 2004, Memorandum of Understanding entitled "Cooperation Regarding the Gas Centrifuge Lead Cascade Facilities at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant." Transition of regulatory oversight from DOE to the NRC authorizes USEC Inc. to introduce uranium hexafluoride into the Lead Cascade.

NRC/DOE Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Lead Cascade and American Centrifuge Plant

On March 24, 2004, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding to foster cooperation regarding the gas centrifuge Lead Cascade Facility at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant site. On March 21, 2007, the NRC and DOE signed a similar Memorandum of Understanding regarding the American Centrifuge Plant.

High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium Demonstration

The NRC staff is in the process of conducting the required safety, safeguards, security, financial and environmental licensing reviews of license amendment applications to support the restart of uranium enrichment operations at the American Centrifuge Plant (ACP) in Piketon, Ohio. 

In May 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and American Centrifuge Operating, LLC (ACO), a subsidiary of Centrus Energy Corp. (Centrus), signed a 3-year letter contract worth $115 million for demonstrating production of high-assay low‑enriched uranium (HALEU) at the Piketon facility.  The contract details were finalized in October 2019.

DOE’s HALEU Demonstration Program has two primary objectives:

  1. Deploy a 16-centrifuge cascade producing 19.75 percent uranium-235 (U-235) enriched HALEU product; and 

  2. Demonstrate the capability to produce HALEU with existing U.S.-origin enrichment technology and provide DOE up to 600 kg of HALEU in the form of UF6 for use in its research and development activities and other programmatic missions. 

The site for the proposed demonstration facility is within the existing structures and areas leased by ACO from DOE for the American Centrifuge Lead Cascade Facility (LCF) and the ACP in Piketon, Ohio.  The LCF consisted of up to 240 operating centrifuges.  After operating the LCF for almost 10 years (2007-2016), ACO decommissioned it in 2018.  However, after signing the letter contract with DOE, in June 2019, ACO submitted a letter (ML19186A272) withdrawing its earlier request (ML18249A298) to terminate the LCF license which ACO had submitted in August 2018.  ACO intends to install the 16-centrifuge HALEU cascade under its LCF license.  The existing structures in Piketon were also meant to be part of Centrus’ much larger commercial ACP that was licensed by the NRC in 2007.
 
Between December 2019 and June 2020, ACO submitted its HALEU demonstration application documents as an amendment request for its ACP license.  The links to the publicly available portions of the application documents are (ML19352G024, ML20125A103, ML20125A108, ML20125A116, ML20125A105, ML20139A100, ML20139A098).  The NRC staff anticipates completing its reviews of these submittals by the ACO requested date of June 2, 2021.  If issued, the amendment will expire when ACO’s 3-year contract period for demonstrating HALEU production ends on May 31, 2022.  ACO has indicated that if the NRC approves its HALEU demonstration application, it will likely request the NRC to further amend the ACP license by approving continued operation of the 16-centrifuge HALEU cascade for an additional period of time beyond the contract expiration date.  

In January 2020, ACO submitted its Foreign Ownership Control or Influence (FOCI) package update for itself, and its parent company Centrus (ML20050C986).  The NRC approved the FOCI update in August 2020.
 
ACO manufactures centrifuge and other classified parts at its Technology and Manufacturing Center (TMC) in Oak Ridge, TN.  Centrus submitted its classified matter security plans for the TMC to the NRC in February 2020 for review and approval (ML20050F863).  The NRC staff completed its review and approved the plans in March 2021 (ML21067A084). 
 
ACO also submitted its classified matter security plans for the Piketon facility and its transportation security plan in March 2020 for review and approval (ML20136A471,  ML20108F542).  The NRC staff approved these plans in October 2020 (ADAMS Accession Nos. ML20255A006, ML20272A173).  These amendments allowed Centrus to transport centrifuge parts from the TMC to the Piketon facility and begin preparing the centrifuges for installation under its existing LCF license for the HALEU cascade.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, April 15, 2021