A demonstration and integrated testing phase of full-size prototype gas centrifuge uranium enrichment machines has been started by Usec, the company has said.

The machines were assembled and installed in recent weeks and will be connected in a closed-loop cascade configuration in Piketon, Ohio. The machines are spinning uranium gas at operational speeds at the American Centrifuge Demonstration Facility and Usec expects to begin lead cascade operations in the coming weeks. The lead cascade consists of fewer than 20 prototype machines, including spare machines, and is located within an existing building that will also house the commercial plant. The new plant will consist of hundreds of cascades.

The move follows extensive testing of centrifuge components and individual full-size prototype machines in special test facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

“We have introduced uranium hexafluoride gas into the individual centrifuge machines and are running a series of tests. If the startup process continues to go well, the staff at the demonstration facility will begin piping the gas from machine to machine in a cascade configuration,” said John K Welch, Usec president and chief executive officer. “While this is an important juncture in our demonstration of the American Centrifuge, we view the lead cascade as another step in a longer journey that we believe will result in a reliable and efficient domestic nuclear fuel supply based on US-owned technology,” he added.

By October the lead cascade is due to be operational and generating product assay in a range usable by commercial nuclear power plants. In 2008, Usec will begin deployment of a cascade of several dozen AC100 machines within the demonstration facility. The first AC100 machines will operate initially in a closed-loop configuration and may later be used in commercial operations. The AC100 series is expected to be the first centrifuges used to produce enriched uranium for sale when commercial operations begin, scheduled for late 2009.

The design of the AC100 series machine is expected to be completed in 2008 with an initial performance level of approximately 350 SWU per machine per year. The 3.8 million SWU capacity of the final American Centrifuge Plant is the expected output from the approximately 11,500 AC100 machines that will fit in the existing buildings at Piketon. Usec aims to be in a position to assemble approximately 400 machines per month from 2010 through 2012.

The update came as Usec unveiled its results for the second quarter showing a net loss of $13.4 million compared to net income of $21.6 million in same quarter last year. Net income of $25.9 million for first six months of 2007 compared with $56.2 million in first half of 2006

Usec said the financial results in both periods reflect the impact of higher electric power costs and higher purchase costs from Russia. These costs are increasing more rapidly than the average price billed to customers under long-term contracts, thereby reducing gross profit.

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