USEC Inc and the US Department of Energy (DOE) have signed agreements to move forward with a $350 million cooperative research, development and demonstration (RD&D) programme to confirm the technical readiness of the American Centrifuge enrichment project.

The agreement is necessary to support defence programme needs, including supporting tritium production requirements for the US nuclear stockpile, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The cooperative agreement, announced 13 June, provides a framework for a cost-shared multiyear RD&D effort to build out and test the first cascade and plant systems at ACP. DOE will provide 80% of the project funding ($280 million); with USEC providing the remainder ($70 million).

Initial funding, intended to last through November 2012, will amount to $110 million. DOE will provide around $88 million for the initial phase by taking title to and disposal responsibility for a quantity of depleted uranium tails from USEC. The project participants will provide an additional $22 million, representing a 20 percent cost share.

The agreements the Department of Energy has signed with American Centrifuge Demonstration, LLC and USEC, include ownership of the centrifuges and other equipment, rights to intellectual property (IP) and technical data. It also includes step-in rights for the DOE to take over the programme if necessary, should the private sector be unable or unwilling to commercialize the ACP technology.

The aim is to have the technology ready for commercial deployment by the end of 2013.

“Upon completion by the end of next year, this RD&D program will fully demonstrate that the American Centrifuge technology is ready for commercial deployment,” John K. Welch, USEC president and CEO said in a statement.