SILEX Laser Uranium Enrichment Technology

Overview

Silex invented and initially developed the ‘SILEX’ laser-based uranium enrichment technology in Sydney during the 1990’s. The technology was licensed exclusively in 2006 to GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC (‘GLE’), a business venture currently comprising GE (51%), Hitachi (25%) and Cameco (24%). Silex and GLE jointly continue to commercialise the technology for potential deployment in the USA. The target markets are the global nuclear fuel markets for natural and enriched uranium, worth several billions of dollars annually.


Background

The SILEX technology was invented by Silex Systems scientists Dr Michael Goldsworthy and Dr Horst Struve in the mid 1990’s at Lucas Heights, Sydney. In order to facilitate the potential commercial deployment of the technology in the United States, an Agreement for Cooperation between the governments of the United States and Australia was signed in May 2000.

In June 2001, the technology was officially Classified by the United States and Australian governments, bringing the project formally under the strict security and regulatory protocols of each country.

The Company signed a Technology Commercialisation and License agreement with General Electric Company (GE) in 2006 to develop and commercialise the technology to enrich uranium for use in nuclear power reactors around the world. Since 2008, the project has been managed by GE subsidiary GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC (GLE). However from early 2016, Silex, in conjunction with GLE's shareholders GE-Hitachi (GEH) and Cameco, have been pursuing a restructure of GLE after GEH announced its intention to exit GLE due to changing business priorities and difficult market conditions.

As a result of the Company's announcement on 12 June 2018 to withdraw from the GLE restructure and terminate the Term Sheet with GEH with regard to Silex potentially acquiring GEH's 76% interest in GLE, the outcome of the GLE restructure and therefore the future of GLE and the prospects for commercialisation of the SILEX technology in the US remain highly uncertain.

Until the future of the technology commercialisation program in the US is resolved, we anticipate that the SILEX Amended and Restated Technology Commercialisation and License Agreement signed in 2013 between GLE and Silex will remain in force.

Uranium Enrichment 

Naturally occurring uranium is dominated by two isotopes, U235 and U238.  Nuclear energy is produced by the splitting (or 'fission') of the U235 atoms. Natural uranium is made up of ~0.7% of the 'active' U235 isotope with the balance (~99.3%) made up of the U238 isotope. Uranium enrichment is the process of concentrating or enriching the U235 isotope up to~5% for use as fuel in a nuclear power reactor. Enrichment is a technically difficult process and constitutes a major component of nuclear fuel costs accounting for around one third of the cost of nuclear fuel and approximately 5% of the total cost of the electricity generated at current prices.




The Separation of Isotopes by Laser EXcitation (SILEX) process is the only third generation laser enrichment technology at an advanced stage of development today. It is able to effectively enrich uranium through highly selective laser excitation of the 235UF6 isotopic molecule.

The two methods of uranium enrichment used to date have been the now obsolete Gas Diffusion (first generation) and Gas Centrifuge (second generation). Silex's third generation laser-based process provides much higher enrichment process efficiency compared to these earlier methods, potentially offering significantly lower overall costs.

Nuclear Fuel Production

The SILEX technology can be utilised in 2 steps of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle to produce:

      1. Natural grade uranium via re-enrichment of tails and inventories; and
      2. Enriched uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power reactors.  

The SILEX Technology

The SILEX technology is a unique laser-based process that has the potential to economically separate uranium isotopes as well as commercially valuable isotopes of several other elements. It has a number of advantages over other uranium enrichment processes including:
  • Inherently higher efficiency resulting in lower costs;
  • Smaller environmental footprint than centrifuge and diffusion plants;
  • Greater flexibility in producing advanced fuels for next generation small modular reactors (SMR's); and
  • Anticipated to have the lowest capital costs of all enrichment technologies.



 

Contact us

Registered Office
Level 8
Suite 8.01
56 Clarence St
Sydney NSW 2000


General Enquiries:
enquiries@silex.com.au

Investor Relations:
investor.relations@silex.com.au
Call +61 2 9704 8888