SILEX Laser Uranium Enrichment Technology


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.


The SILEX technology was invented by Silex Systems scientists Dr Michael Goldsworthy and Dr Horst Struve in the mid 1990’s. 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.

In 2006, Silex signed a Technology Commercialisation and License agreement with General Electric Company (GE) 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 GLE.

Uranium Enrichment 

Naturally occurring uranium must be enriched before it can be used 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 up to 5% of the total cost of the electricity generated at current prices.

Uranium enrichment involves increasing the atomic concentration of the ‘active’ U235 isotope from 0.7% in natural uranium to approximately 5% required for reactor fuel. GLE and Silex are jointly developing the SILEX third generation laser enrichment technology:
  • Separation of Isotopes by Laser EXcitation (SILEX)
  • Highly selective excitation of 235UF6 to separate isotopes
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:
  • natural grade uranium via re-enrichment of tails inventories; and
  • enriched uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power reactors.

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