- 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 proposed Paducah uranium project utilising the SILEX technology has the potential to produce up to 5 million pounds of uranium annually for ~30 years
- Based on estimates of production costs and project longevity, the Paducah project is anticipated to be equivalent to a ‘Tier 1’ uranium project ranking in the top 10 projects today by annual production
Global Laser Enrichment
In accordance with a Technology Commercialisation and License Agreement, Global Laser Enrichment LLC (GLE) holds the exclusive worldwide license to commercialise the SILEX technology for uranium enrichment, which was invented and originally developed by Silex in Sydney, Australia.
GLE’s current focus is to complete the full-scale demonstration of the SILEX uranium technology utilising a pilot plant, currently being built in its Test Loop facility in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Silex completed the acquisition of a 51% interest in GLE in January 2021, following the completion of a lengthy US Government approval process. The transaction involved the joint purchase of GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s 76% interest in GLE by Silex acquiring a 51% interest and Cameco Corporation, one of the world’s leading uranium and nuclear fuel suppliers, increasing its interest from 24% to 49%.
Silex and Cameco have also negotiated terms for an option for Cameco to purchase from Silex at fair market value, an additional 26% interest in GLE, potentially increasing their interest to 75% (subject to US Government approvals). This option can be exercised by Cameco from two years from completion of the transaction (i.e., from January 2023) up until 30 months after the technology is satisfactorily demonstrated at full commercial pilot scale (anticipated to be in the mid-2020’s).
Paducah Laser Enrichment Facility (PLEF) Project
The path to market for GLE and the SILEX uranium enrichment technology is focused on the Paducah Laser Enrichment Facility (PLEF) project which has the potential to produce up to 5 million pounds of uranium annually for approximately 30 years. Preliminary analysis of the Paducah opportunity indicates the project may be equivalent to a ‘Tier 1’ uranium project based on the low cost of production and longevity of the project.
The PLEF uranium project is underpinned by an agreement between GLE and the US Department of Energy for the purchase of over 200,000 metric tons of depleted UF6 tails, which will be enriched using the SILEX uranium enrichment technology to produce natural grade uranium for sale into the global uranium market, and then potentially further enriched to produce nuclear fuel for zero-emissions electricity generation. The PLEF facility is planned to be operational in the late 2020’s, depending on market conditions, financing and licensing prerequisites.
SILEX Technology and Nuclear Fuel Production
Through the commercial deployment of SILEX technology, GLE could become a major contributor to nuclear fuel production for the world’s current and future nuclear reactor fleet, with the capability to produce uranium fuel in three different forms:
- Natural Grade Uranium (Unat): via enrichment of DOE inventories of depleted tails in the Paducah project (producing uranium at natural U235 assay of ~0.7%);
- Low Enriched Uranium (LEU): for use as fuel in today’s conventional nuclear power reactors (enrichment to U235 assays of between 3% to 5%); and
- High Assay LEU (HALEU): a customised fuel to be produced for next-generation Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) currently under development (enrichment to U235 assays of up to 19.9%).
Uranium production and enrichment are the two largest value drivers of the current nuclear fuel cycle, accounting for up to 70% of the value of a fuel bundle. Furthermore, as the tails feedstock for the Paducah project is already in the form of UF6, the value of the second step for nuclear fuel production (conversion from uranium oxide to uranium fluoride) is also captured by the Paducah project.
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:
- Commercial pilot demonstration: US$5 million
- Commencement of PLEF Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC): US$5 million
- 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.