Kenneth R. Fletcher
While the spending bill released by Congress this week includes $62 million for a program supporting USEC’s American Centrifuge project, it also makes another $56.65 million in funding contingent on a Department of Energy cost-benefit analysis of potential domestic enrichment technologies for national security needs. The Department is supporting American Centrifuge through a cost-share research, development and deployment program, citing the need for a domestic source of enriched uranium for national security needs including tritium production. “The Department has yet to provide a clear explanation of its strategy to ensure the continued supply of tritium and enriched uranium to meet defense needs,” states report language accompanying the bill. “Therefore, the agreement includes a general provision that requires the Department to submit a full accounting of its plans not later than June 30, 2014.”
The DOE program had been scheduled wrap up this week, and all project milestones have been met, but DOE and USEC are hoping to stretch it out. USEC said last month that it planned to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early 2014 and could not continue to support the project on its own after the DOE program ends. DOE and USEC subsequently announced that they were seeking approval from Congress for a three-month extension to the RD&D program that would total $30 million, of which $24 million would be government funds.
It’s unclear how long the $62 million will keep the program afloat, or if it could change the company’s plans to file for bankruptcy. This week USEC said that it is still analyzing the impacts of the funding. “This funding reflects the continued commitment of Congress and the Administration to the key goal that the United States maintain a domestic uranium enrichment capability with U.S. technology for national and energy security purposes,” USEC spokesman Paul Jacobson said in a statement. DOE referred request for comment to the White House.
USEC has been pushing for an extension of the RD&D program to keep the project afloat through the year, and has also suggested the establishment of a $750 million “National Security Train” program that would build enough centrifuges to keep the government supplied with enriched uranium for national security needs. But the next wave of funding included in this week’s bill, which totals $56.65 million, could potentially go to another enrichment project. It depends on a “cost-benefit analysis of available and prospective domestic enrichment technologies for national security needs, the scope, schedule, and cost of his preferred option,” the legislation states.