• GLE is jointly owned by Silex (51%) and Cameco Corporation (49%)
  • GLE is the exclusive licensee of the SILEX technology for uranium enrichment
  • Technology commercialisation project being conducted at GLE’s Wilmington, North Carolina facility and at Silex’s Sydney facility

The GLE/Silex Pilot Demonstration Project for the SILEX Technology

In February 2023, GLE’s owners agreed to a plan and budget for CY2023 that accelerates activities in the commercial-scale pilot demonstration project for the SILEX uranium enrichment technology.

Since February 2023, Silex and GLE have continued to accelerate construction of full-scale laser and separator equipment being deployed in GLE’s Test Loop facility in Wilmington, with the aim of completing a commercial-scale pilot demonstration (TRL-61) of the SILEX technology as early as mid-2024.  Attaining the TRL-6 level is a key milestone in the de-risking of the SILEX technology before the focus turns to the potential preparation for, and construction of, the first commercial SILEX uranium enrichment plant at the PLEF.

Construction and integration of the pilot equipment is currently on track to be completed around the end of CY2023, with commissioning to commence as early as Q1 CY2024. Following commissioning activities, the full SILEX technology pilot demonstration facility is expected to be put into service as early as Q2 CY2024.

The continued acceleration of GLE’s commercialisation activities beyond CY2023 will preserve the option of commencing commercial operations at the planned PLEF as early as 2028, up to three years earlier than originally planned. The continued acceleration is subject to market factors and the level of support forthcoming from various government and industry initiatives.

1. Technology Readiness Level 6 (TRL-6) as defined in DOE Technology Readiness Assessment Guide ‘DOE G 413.3-4A’

Paducah Laser Enrichment Facility (PLEF) Multi-purpose Production Plant

Two key factors are driving potential transformation of the global nuclear fuel supply chain, presenting GLE with a ‘Triple Opportunity’ to produce three different grades of nuclear fuel – all via the deployment of SILEX laser-based uranium enrichment technology at the proposed PLEF Production Plant:

i) the growing shift towards utilisation of nuclear power by many countries around the world in response to heightened concerns over global climate change;

ii) the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which threatens to disrupt the significant supply of Russian nuclear fuel to the US and other Western markets.

The Triple Opportunity could involve:

  • PLEF UF6 Production: Production of natural grade UF6 (with U-235 assay of 0.7%) via processing of depleted tails (U-235 assays of 0.25% to 0.5%) with the SILEX technology (the original PLEF project), which would come in the form of already converted uranium, thereby also helping to alleviate UF6 conversion supply pressure;
  • PLEF LEU Production: Production of LEU (U-235 assays up to 5%) and LEU+ (assays from 5% to 10%) from natural grade UF6 with additional SILEX enrichment capacity – to supply fuel for existing reactors;
  • PLEF HALEU Production: Production of HALEU (U-235 assays up to ~20%) via enrichment with the SILEX technology to supply fuel for next generation advanced reactors, including SMRs.

The PLEF project opportunities are underpinned by the 2016 agreement between GLE and the DOE, which, through the acquisition of over 200,000 metric tonnes of depleted tails owned by the DOE, provides the feedstock for the production of natural grade uranium hexafluoride (UF6) over three decades. The output of the proposed plant would be sold into the global uranium market at an expected production rate equivalent to a uranium mine with an annual output of up to 5 million pounds of uranium oxide, which would rank in the top 10 of today’s uranium mines by production volume. Preliminary analysis by Silex of PLEF UF6 Production indicates it could rank equal to a ‘Tier 1’ uranium project based on current estimates of longevity and low cost of production.

With Russia currently holding around 45% of the world’s uranium enrichment capacity, there is an urgent need for the Western nuclear industry to minimise or eliminate reliance on the sourcing of enriched nuclear fuel from Russia. This opens up the second opportunity for the PLEF facility – for the production of LEU fuel for the existing nuclear power reactor fleet.

Potential production of HALEU at the PLEF has emerged as a third opportunity as Western nuclear fuel supply chains prepare for the exclusion of Russian-sourced HALEU. HALEU will be required to fuel many advanced reactor designs, including a number of SMRs.

The SILEX Technology License Agreement

  • Perpetual royalty of a minimum of 7%: payable to Silex on GLE’s enrichment (SWU1) revenues from use of the SILEX technology
  • US$20 million in Milestone Payments: payable to Silex triggered by commercial development milestones

The Technology Commercialisation and License Agreement between Silex and GLE is an exclusive worldwide license for exploitation of the SILEX technology for uranium enrichment. The License Agreement, including the above-noted royalty revenues and milestone payments, is independent of Silex’s 51% equity interest in GLE and any commercial benefits flowing from that interest.

1. SWU – Separative Work Unit is the unit of enrichment traded in the market

Payments to Silex triggered by Commercialisation Milestones

The License Agreement includes US$20 million in payments to Silex triggered by commercial development milestones:

  1. Commercial pilot demonstration (TRL-61): US$5 million
  2. Commencement of PLEF Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC): US$5 million
  3. PLEF commercial operations: US$10 million

A US$15 million milestone payment was also received by Silex in July 2013. This was triggered by the successful completion of the Test Loop Phase 1 Program Milestone: Technology Demonstration and Validation. This milestone involved the demonstration of efficient enrichment with the SILEX laser technology at the prototype level.

The key value of the License Agreement is a perpetual royalty of  7% (min.) on revenues generated by GLE from the use of SILEX technology for the production of natural and enriched uranium. The actual value of the royalty payable is a function of the capital costs of revenue-generating facilities, which is the key commercial driver of the SILEX technology in comparison to centrifuge technology.

1. Technology Readiness Level 6 (TRL-6) as defined in DOE Technology Readiness Assessment Guide ‘DOE G 413.3-4A’