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PostPosted: Sep 16, 2011 4:02 am 
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Global Laser Enrichment, a subsidiary of General Electric-Hitachi, has submitted its license to build a billion dollar laser enrichment facility. It appears to be the SILEX process that uses infrared excitation (high frequency 16 um pulses).

http://economicsnewspaper.com/policy/ge ... 59904.html

Seems like an important development, as this is a very big project for a laser enrichment facility (serves maybe 50-60 GWe of light water reactors).


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PostPosted: Sep 16, 2011 6:51 am 
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What about energy (electricity) consumption and cost per SWU ? With gas centrifugation today we need about 40-60 kWh per SWU and a cost of about 150 $/SWU, how does laser enrichment compare with it ?


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PostPosted: Sep 16, 2011 9:45 am 
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All process details are secret, so anyone who knows the costs isn't allowed to tell. They must think it will be cheaper, or they wouldn't be going ahead. Energy usage might also be lower, but the efficiency of the electricity --> lazer --> bond breaking path is of course not published. Even 1% efficient might be better than centrifuge it, but if this was easy, it would have been done decades ago.


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PostPosted: Sep 16, 2011 11:45 am 
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I'm sure not fond of the secrecy. When anyone can ask a freshman engineering student to design for them a centrifuge enrichment system with technology mastered decades ago, the notion that laser enrichment that requires vastly more advanced industrial base to build and operate somehow represents a bigger proliferation risk than tried and true technology that anyone can build is more than silly.

The secrecy in it in my opinion can cover a process that is simply less cost effective and is just graft in the guise of government contracting.


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PostPosted: Sep 16, 2011 1:04 pm 
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Alex P wrote:
What about energy (electricity) consumption and cost per SWU ? With gas centrifugation today we need about 40-60 kWh per SWU and a cost of about 150 $/SWU, how does laser enrichment compare with it ?



I'd make a small correction. The "price" of centrifuge enrichment is 150$/SWU. The actual cost is only 40 or 50$/SWU but the market price for SWU is artificially high due to the old gaseous diffusion behemoths that are still churning out enriched uranium. With such a good profit margin on centrifuge technology I can't see why they are funneling money towards SILEX even if SILEX's proliferation concerns are exaggerated.

Wait a minute. Isn't GE's corporate moto to be number 1 or 2 in any area of business or they get out of it? Hmmm, maybe they want to be number 1 in SILEX, not 4th or 5th in centrifuge.

David L.


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PostPosted: Sep 16, 2011 8:27 pm 
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Wish there was a "like" button David -- good post !


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PostPosted: Sep 17, 2011 2:34 am 
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Sure enough, the latest centrifuges work well and are affordable. But that's not the commercial reality for GE: enrichment is heavy IP territory - the secrecy is not just for proliferation reasons. Its actually really hard to make centrifuges work both effectively and efficiently without them destroying themselves every two weeks. You need special alloys, special centrifuge geometries, etc. If GE can build their own tech in laser enrichment then that gives them a way around all the IP.
Uranium enrichment is heavily oligopolized - conspiracy theorists may wonder if the enrichment companies are actually benefitted by all the proliferation secrecy, as it provides a barrier to new competitors.

Lasers are much closer to Maxwell's Demons than centrifuges, and the lasers they are using I think are CO2 lasers, well proven industrially (just not at this specific high frequency). It could actually be more energy intensive than centrifuges, but if you can get the capital cost, maintenance costs, and tails essays lower plus have your own IP monopoly in the field, then that could make a lot of sense for GE. GE's early focus on BWRs rather than more developed but established PWRs, is a good example of this strategy.

The laser enthusiasts, of course, are claiming costs under USD 10/SWU for full sized facilities.


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PostPosted: Sep 17, 2011 12:38 pm 
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It is also likely that there will develop other application for the technology as it is proved out.
For example, 7Li or 37Cl.


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PostPosted: Sep 17, 2011 12:48 pm 
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from this paper

http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/doe/lan ... /silex.pdf
Quote:
Ctilities requirements for production
For a plant that is using the SILEX technology to enrich uranium the main utility
requirement is electrical power for operating the lasers. Significant electrical power
would also be necessary for maintaining vacuum conditions in the process veSsel, for
pumping the process gas, and separating the components.
We can make an assessment of the electrical power required for the operation of the
lasers. The CO~ lasers themselves are about 1 % efficient. The conversion to 16-JIn laser
radiation is about 25% efficient. The laser power required for tests in the current SSL
experimental facility is 12 W. This would need to be enhanced by at least a factor of
twenty to obtain high enrichment. By considering all of these factors we obtain an
electrical requirement of about 100 kW for the lasers for a single process vessel. This
would be the minimum power requirement for processing the 1.0 kg of235U in eight days
mentioned in the previous paragraph.


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PostPosted: Sep 17, 2011 1:27 pm 
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The electricity consumption figures I see quoted on the internet are 100-200 kWh/SWU for SILEX. This compares to 50 kWh/SWU for centrifuges. But the main advantage is over diffusion enrichment, at over 2000 kWh/SWU.

If you assume your electric price is 5 cents/kWh, then this is only $2.50/SWU for the centrifuges and $5-10/SWU for SILEX. So the difference is only $2.50 - 7.50/SWU.

This is really not so much. Capital and operating costs are clearly much more important. Centrifuges require quite a lot of maintenance and don't last as long as the facility is supposed to operate. So the question is really, how do the capital and maintenance cost compare between centrifuges and SILEX? The SILEX project seems to be 1 billion for maybe 6 million SWUs and the centrifuge projects are 4 billion for 11 million SWUs (Georges Besse) and 2 billion for 3 million SWUs (Eagle Rock). So that seems to put laser on a lower capital cost, maybe half the capital cost of centrifuges. But that remains to be seen of course - the figures are rough and not yet definitive.

But the 2000 kWh/SWU for diffusion would cost $100/SWU. Even if they cost nothing to operate (unlikely, the facilities are huge) the electric cost alone is prizing them out of the market - almost all diffusion capacity is scheduled for replacement by centrifuges over the next 10 years. This is freeing up a lot of capacity. The Georges Besse project is a great example:

http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2009/12/frenc ... nergy.html

As you can see they had 4 dedicated large nuclear reactors for the diffusion plant alone (!). That is 3 GWe (!) that is freeing up over the next couple of years, to be connected to the grid. Of course, that comes in handy, with the German morons closing their nuclear plants, they can now import this 3 GWe of nuclear from France. Hey, its a negawatts project, so the Germans have to like it!


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PostPosted: Sep 17, 2011 4:42 pm 
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dezakin wrote:
I'm sure not fond of the secrecy. When anyone can ask a freshman engineering student to design for them a centrifuge enrichment system with technology mastered decades ago, the notion that laser enrichment that requires vastly more advanced industrial base to build and operate somehow represents a bigger proliferation risk than tried and true technology that anyone can build is more than silly.

The secrecy in it in my opinion can cover a process that is simply less cost effective and is just graft in the guise of government contracting.


The footprint of a centrifuge or gaseous diffusion facility is quite large and lends itself to discovery through national technical means. Laser enrichment offers an approach that is much harder to uncover (imagine a few tractor trailers strung together).

As others have noted, GE is in business to be #1 or #2, and lasers are the path forward. Livermore used pumped dye lasers and had excellent yields.


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PostPosted: Sep 18, 2011 4:49 am 
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OK I'm going to attempt to find some levelised cost for capital for these projects.

Looks like the new centrifuge projects are going for an investment cost of very roughly 600-1200 USD/SWU. At 40 year project lifetime and 10% weighted cost of capital that would be 40-90 USD/SWU levelised capital cost.

With the laser project apparently under 200 USD/SWU investment that would give it a levelised capital cost of only 15 USD/SWU which is at least a 25 USD/SWU advantage over the centrifuge with these assumptions. Even if it uses 5x as much electricity than centrifuges it will be more profitable.

Now on to O&M costs. Hmm, I haven't a clue about this. :roll:


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PostPosted: Sep 18, 2011 8:08 pm 
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Lars wrote:
It is also likely that there will develop other application for the technology as it is proved out.
For example, 7Li or 37Cl.



Does SILEX require a gaseous form for enrichment? That is the main problem for Lithium, no gaseous forms for the centrifuges. If SILEX is a game changer for 7Li enrichment then it is a more interesting development than I thought.

David L.


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PostPosted: Sep 19, 2011 3:08 am 
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David wrote:
Lars wrote:
It is also likely that there will develop other application for the technology as it is proved out.
For example, 7Li or 37Cl.



Does SILEX require a gaseous form for enrichment? That is the main problem for Lithium, no gaseous forms for the centrifuges. If SILEX is a game changer for 7Li enrichment then it is a more interesting development than I thought.

David L.


Yeah they need a gas. If they used liquids the product would simply dissolve back into the liquid feed...


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PostPosted: Sep 19, 2011 9:36 am 
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Thanks Cyril, I guess that means SILEX doesn't help that much for Lithium enrichment. Oh well...

David L.


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