Australia's Silex Systems Ltd says it has completed testing of the second full-scale laser system module developed for Global Laser Enrichment's (GLE's) commercial pilot demonstration facility in the USA. The module is now being prepared for shipment to GLE's facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, and should be installed and operational by the end of 2023, subject to transport scheduling. GLE is the exclusive worldwide licensee of the Silex laser technology for uranium enrichment.

Silex said the second laser system module was constructed and tested at Silex’s Lucas Heights laser technology development centre in less than 12 months, “in line with the accelerated schedule for the commercial-scale pilot demonstration project, which may be completed as early as mid-2024”. The first full-scale laser system module developed by Silex completed eight months of testing in August 2022, after which it was packaged for shipment to GLE's Test Loop Facility at Wilmington.

Silex Managing Director & CEO Michael Goldsworthy said: "We are also encouraged with the accelerated efforts in GLE's Test Loop facility through which the balance of pilot systems, including the separator and gas handling equipment, are progressing towards completion of construction. We are hopeful that commissioning of the full pilot facility could commence in the first quarter of 2024."

GLE joint venture owners Silex (51%) and Cameco (49%) agreed in February to a plan and budget for 2023 to accelerate activities with the aim of completing a commercial-scale pilot demonstration (TRL-6) of the Silex technology as early as mid-2024. "If the technology demonstration project can be successfully completed on an accelerated timeline, this preserves the option to commence commercial operations at the proposed Paducah Laser Enrichment Facility (PLEF) up to three years earlier than originally planned, subject to the availability of government and industry support, as well as geopolitical and market factors," Silex noted.

GLE's shareholders Silex and Cameco are assessing the timeline for PLEF, which will produce natural-grade uranium hexafluoride (UF6) from enrichment of material from the US Department of Energy's (DOE’s) depleted uranium tails inventories under a 2016 agreement.

Silex believes that, subject to the successful completion of the commercialisation project, market conditions and other factors, it “could enable GLE to become a major contributor to nuclear fuel production for the world’s current and future nuclear reactor fleets, through the production of uranium in three different forms at a PLEF multi-purpose production plant”.

These include: PLEF I – Production of natural grade UF6 via tails processing with the SILEX technology (the original PLEF Project) which will also help alleviate UF6 conversion supply pressure; PLEF II – Production of low enriched uranium (LEU) and LEU+ from natural UF6 via an extension of the PLEF with additional Silex enrichment capacity to supply fuel for existing reactors; and PLEF III – Production of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) via additional capacity of Silex technology to supply fuel for next generation advanced small modular reactors (SMRs).

Silex refers to the opportunity to produce three different grades of nuclear fuel at the proposed PLEF as the “Triple Opportunity”.

Image courtesy of Silex Systems Ltd