September 26, 2012 / 2:40 AM / in 5 years

GE, Hitachi win U.S. approval for laser-tech uranium plant

WILMINGTON, N.C., Sept 25 (Reuters) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a license on Tuesday to a partnership between General Electric Co. and Japan’s Hitachi Ltd to build and run a uranium enrichment plant using laser technology.

The license, which came after three years of safety and environmental reviews, allows GE and Hitachi to use laser enrichment technology which could produce half the amount of enriched uranium the U.S. needs each year for its nuclear reactors, according to the Energy Information Administration.

GE plans to build the first laser enrichment plant on its 1,600 acre (647 hectares) campus north of Wilmington in North Carolina, home to GE Nuclear’s world headquarters, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, and a GE Aviation facility.

“The technology we’ve developed could be one of the keys to the nation’s long-term energy security,” said Chris Monetta, President and CEO of Global Laser Enrichment, the GE-Hitachi partnership which will build the facility. It did not say when building would start.

The laser enrichment technology was designed by Australia-based Silex Systems Ltd.

“At a minimum, it could provide a steady supply of uranium enriched right here in the U.S. to the country’s nuclear reactors. These reactors provide approximately 20 percent of the nation’s electricity today and will continue to be an important part of the energy mix for decades to come”, Monetta said.

GE’s partners Hitachi and Cameco Corp., the world’s largest uranium producer, hold stakes of 25 percent and 24 percent respectively in Global Laser Enrichment.

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