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 a detailed assessment of various options for the restructure of GLE and extensive discussions with key stakeholders, including GLE's shareholders GEH and Cameco, Silex announced on 6 February 2019 the signing of a new Term Sheet outlining terms for the joint purchase of GEH's 76% interest in GLE by Silex and existing 24% GLE shareholder, Cameco.

Subject to finalising a mutually satisfactory binding Purchase Agreement and obtaining US Government approvals, the proposed restructure of GLE under the new Term Sheet would result in Silex acquiring a 51% interest in GLE and Cameco increasing its interest from 24% to 49%. Providing the proposed restructure is successfully completed, this restructure will provide a viable path forward for the continued commercialisation of the SILEX technology in the US.

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.
UET-Diagram-2019-01.jpg

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. 

At current prices,  uranium production and enrichment account for approximately 70% of the cost of nuclear fuel.

fuel-diagram-2019-01-(2).jpg

The SILEX Technology

The SILEX technology is a unique laser-based process that has the potential to economically separate uranium isotopes. 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 (SMRs); and
  • Anticipated to have the lowest capital costs of all enrichment technologies.



 

Contact us

Registered Office:
Lucas Heights Science and Technology Centre New Illawarra Road
Lucas Heights NSW 2234
Australia

Postal Address:
PO Box 75
Menai Central NSW 2234
Australia


General Enquiries:
enquiries@silex.com.au

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