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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Dirk Bannink


This issue of Nuclear Monitor focuses on the uranium enrichment consortium Urenco. The author is Dirk Bannink from the Laka Foundation, a nuclear energy documentation and research center ( This is the English version of the original report (in Dutch, posted at plus a more detailed discussion of the A.Q. Khan network (with thanks to David Lowry for his help with this section). The report is part of the '50 Years Treaty of Almelo' project ‒ a collaboration between Vedan Foundation, Enschede for Peace (NL), AKU Gronau, AKU Schüttorf, BBU (BRD), Close Capenhurst Campaign (UK) and the Laka Foundation.

The Treaty of Almelo was signed on 4 March 1970 ‒ an agreement between the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and West Germany on setting up a company with the aim of enriching uranium: Urenco.

The origin of uranium enrichment is military and until then enrichment was primarily the monopoly of the United States and Soviet nuclear-weapon states.

Now, 50 years later, Urenco is a major player on the world market. But those 50 years did not go smoothly and even now the company is under pressure: not only because of the slowdown in the growth of nuclear energy, resulting in large overcapacity in the enrichment market and a shrinking order portfolio, but also due to the German Atom Ausstieg and the decline of nuclear energy in Urenco's traditional market: Western Europe.

This paper describes the development of uranium enrichment and the turbulent history of Urenco. It further analyzes current issues regarding Urenco and its uncertain future.

1. The Treaty of Almelo
2. The history of uranium enrichment in Urenco countries
3. Urenco: company, contracts and prospects           
4. The Urenco enrichment plants
5. Depleted uranium: storage and dumping in Russia
6. HALEU, Tritium and the bomb
7. A.Q. Khan and other scandals       
Annex I: Enrichment: Feed, Product and Tails
Annex II: History of uranium enrichment and market


On March 4, 1970, the Treaty of Almelo is signed by West Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in the Dutch city Almelo. With this, a company is set up that will make uranium suitable for use in nuclear power stations by means of centrifuges, and a company that will produce and further develop these centrifuges.

1.1 Pre-signing

A declaration of principles was already drawn up between the three countries at the end of November 1968 on international cooperation in the enrichment of uranium.1 On 11 March 1969 British, Dutch and West German ministers reached an agreement in London "on the basis of the favorable preliminary technical investigation" a joint uranium enrichment company: URanium ENrichment COmpany; Urenco.

The three countries each agree to build their own pilot enrichment plant: the British opt for the Capenhurst site where gas diffusion enrichment is already being applied and the German pilot plant will be built in the Netherlands for political reasons. Already a day after the agreement in London (on March 12, 1969) a piece of land was purchased in Almelo for the Dutch (and German) pilot plant. The Dutch partner in Urenco, Ultra Centrifuge Nederland NV (UCN), was established on November 4, 1969.2

Uranit was founded in West Germany on 6 August 1969 and will become the German partner in Urenco. In the UK, the UK Atomic Energy Agency ‒ which is responsible for both the civilian and military nuclear program ‒ will act as a partner until British Nuclear Fuel Limited (BNFL), its 100% subsidiary, is founded in 1971.

1.2 Signing and entry into force

The signing of the Convention takes place on 4 March 1970 in Almelo by the Foreign Ministers of the Netherlands (Joseph Luns), of the United Kingdom (Lord Chalfont) and of West Germany (Walter Scheel). Two companies were founded by signing the Treaty of Almelo: Urenco Ltd and Centec GmbH. Urenco Ltd, (with UCN, BNFL and Uranit shareholders as one-third each) acts as a marketing company representing the interests of the various enrichment plants and Centec (with the same proportion as BNFL, UCN and the German Gesellschaft für Nuklearverfahrestechnik mbh (GnV)) coordinates technological developments (R&D).

The United Kingdom ratifies the Convention on 26 March 1971; the Netherlands does this on 18 June 1971 and due to the ratification of West Germany on 19 July 1971 the Convention will automatically enter into force on that date. The Treaty includes the provision that, after it has been in force for 10 years, any contracting party, with a notice period of one year, can terminate the Treaty in writing (Art. XV). The "contracting parties" may also decide together to terminate the Convention (Art. XVI). Termination by one of the signatories would, according to the prevailing opinion, mean the end of the Treaty and thus the end of the attempts to curb the spread of secret ultracentrifuge enrichment technology. Threatening with cancellation therefore becomes a means of forcing decisions.3

1.3 Protest

Five days after the signing of the Treaty, a small demonstration is held in Almelo with about 50 people participating. On Pentecost, 16‒18 May, there are 2500 people at the traditional annual tent camp of the Algemene Nederlands Jeugd Verbond (General Dutch Youth Association)4 coincidentally that year in Almelo, where one of the spearheads is the demonstration against the "UC project" under the motto: "No A-bomb via Almelo".5


1 "London, Bonn en Den Haag gaan samenwerken bij produktie verrijkt uranium" ("London, Bonn and The Hague to collaborate on production enriched uranium"), Leeuwarder Courant, November 26, 1968

2 De geschiedenis van het Nederlandse Centrifuge Project" ("The History of the Dutch Centrifuge Project"), J. Kistemaker, 1991

3 See for example the Brazil affair in Chapter 7

4 The ANVJ was a communist political youth organization, founded in 1945, with the aim of establishing one socialist youth movement. From an organizational point of view, the ANJV was independent, but politically it was affiliated with the Communist Party of the Netherlands. Within the ANVJ (and CPN) much attention was paid to West German "revanchism and atomic armament".

5 Jongeren manifestatie in Almelo" ("Youth manifestation in Almelo") in: De Waarheid, 19 May 1970, p1


The origin and history of Urenco is closely linked to decades of research into uranium enrichment technology; and especially the development of ultracentrifuge technology. In this chapter we briefly describe that developmental history in what will eventually become the three Urenco countries: the Netherlands, Great Britain and West Germany.

2.1 Manhattan project

In 1919, shortly after the existence of isotopes was experimentally confirmed, British scientists Lindeman and Aston suggested using centrifuges for the separation of isotopes. A number of tests with primitive centrifuges followed, but without success. After the American scientist Beams decided to isolate the centrifuge rotor in a thermal vacuum, isotopes of chlorine were successfully separated. In the Manhattan project1, centrifuge was initially preferred as an enrichment technology, but in December 1943, after a number of centrifuges had exploded, they switched to gas diffusion technology.2

2.2 Smyth report

In the Smyth report3 published in July 1945, Henry DeWolf Smyth described the two ways in which the Manhattan project obtained the material for the nuclear bomb: the production of plutonium by the bombardment of uranium-238 in a nuclear reactor and the enrichment of uranium by means of gas diffusion and gas centrifuge. For scientists who had not been involved in the Manhattan project, this was an 'eye opener'.

Several countries started enrichment research based on this report, sometimes focused on diffusion and sometimes on gas centrifuges. Here we briefly summarize developments in the three Urenco countries.

2.3 The Netherlands4

In 1947, the recently established FOM (Fundamental Research on Matter) began the development of an electromagnetic mass separator in the Zeeman laboratory of the Municipal University of Amsterdam. This makes it possible to separate small amounts of isotopes. Already in November 1953, a small amount (10 milligrams) of uranium was enriched to 8%.

In December 1954, Jaap Kistemaker started research into the development of uranium enrichment centrifuges in December 1954, after ‒ he says ‒ 'accidentally' attending a colloquium in Hamburg on the latest developments in the field of ultracentrifuge (about separating argon isotopes).

On March 10, 1961, the Dutch government, like the United States, the United Kingdom and West Germany, declared all work on the ultracentrifuge project "state secret." As a result, FOM stopped doing this: they did not want to conduct a secret investigation. FOM was also of the opinion that it became less fundamental research and more applied research. Meanwhile, the centrifuge investigation was under fire from the (at that time still large) Dutch Communist party CPN and its daily newspaper De Waarheid. Kistemaker was accused of having worked for the German Cellastic during the war and still collaborating with German (former) Nazis on research into the German A-bomb "desired by the German revanchists".5

The centrifuge investigation continued, but during the first half of the 1960s there was much doubt about progress and feasibility. Eventually in 1968 a test set-up of 70 'tollen' (centrifuges) was put into use in Duivendrecht; due to lack of money, half the planned number. A few weeks later, most likely on December 17, 1968, all 70 centrifuges imploded in one go due to a gas breach. This accident was kept secret by the Netherlands during the negotiations with West Germany and the United Kingdom on the establishment of Urenco.

2.4 (West) Germany

In (West) Germany, research into uranium enrichment began in and actually before the Second World War mainly at the universities of Hamburg and Kiel. The chemist Groth had already developed a prototype centrifuge (together with Harteck and Beyerle) in Hamburg in the spring of 1941, which was further developed together with an arms company. Already in early 1943 it had succeeded in producing 100 grams of up to 7% enriched uranium.6
After the end of the Second World War, a number of restrictions were imposed on West Germany: much "natural science" research was prohibited and applied nuclear physics was at the top of that list. The Allied Kontrollrat (29 April 29 1946) introduced a complete ban on "Angewandte Atom-physik". After the founding of the Federal Republic, this prohibition was taken over in Gesetz 22 of the Alliierten Hohen Kommission of 2 March 1950.7

As a result of the negotiations on the sovereignty of the Federal Republic, and due to the accession to NATO and the WEU (the Western European Union), the Paris Agreements were signed on 23 October 23 1954 and included in West German legislation in May 1955.8 It prohibited the production of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons (Annex II), but also the possession of more than 2.1% enriched uranium.9

In practice, the handling of that prohibition in the different occupation zones in which Germany was subdivided developed very differently. In the British zone there was a very remarkable "interpretation" of the ban: as early as 1946, Beyerle was instructed to complete two uranium enrichment centrifuges that he had started during the war.10

Groth's research also continued virtually uninterrupted after the end of the Second World War; he was briefly interviewed in England, but was then allowed to continue his research, from 1950 at the University of Bonn and from 1955 again with Beyerle.

Parallel to this, German research took place in Russia, where a number of scientists (including Steenbeck and the Austrian Zippe) as prisoners of war made great progress with centrifuge development.

They developed a centrifuge that was more powerful but at the same time much smaller than the one that Groth developed in Bonn. From 1957 the Soviet Union invested in centrifuges for uranium enrichment, although the enormous gas diffusion enrichment plants remained in operation for decades. When the scientists returned to Germany in the late 1950s, research into the Zippe centrifuge continued in collaboration with industry in Germany. After the decision to declare centrifuge technology secret in 1961, the government decided to transfer the investigation to the Gesellschaft für Kernverfahrenstechnik, which later became one of the partners in Uranit, founded in 1969.11

2.5 United Kingdom

The United Kingdom was at the start of isotope separation by centrifuges: after all, it was the British scientists Lindeman and Aston who already suggested it in 1919. The internment in Great Britain of, among others, Hartbeck, who had done centrifuge research with Groth in Hamburg during the war, made people well aware of the scientific development of uranium enrichment by centrifuges.

The development of centrifuges, inter alia, through research in the German occupation zone, offered the British a first opportunity to become more independent of cooperation with the US. After all, the United Kingdom was also involved in the Manhattan project, and as a result uranium enrichment focused primarily on gas diffusion: as early as 1946 the construction of an enrichment plant based on that diffusion technology was commissioned. In 1950, a military site in Capenhurst was chosen as the location and in 1953 the production of first low enriched uranium started, and a year later already high enriched uranium was produced. Capacity increased considerably to 1,600 kg of highly enriched uranium in 1959. At the end of 1961, the company switched to the production of low enriched uranium for nuclear power plants and the gas diffusion plant was closed and dismantled in 1982.12

In addition to enrichment research through gas diffusion, British research into uranium enrichment by centrifuges was intensified from the 1960s. By 1966, centrifuge development had reached the point "where an efficient design had evolved" and started testing with a series of centrifuges. After two years, the centrifugation process proved to be viable and more economical than diffusion. The development of diffusion was then stopped and all British enrichment studies were concentrated on further improvement of the centrifugation process.13


1 The secret project, led by the United States, with the help of Canada and the United Kingdom that was to lead to the development of the atomic bomb during the Second World War.

2 R. Scott Kemp: "Gas Centrifuge Theory and Development": A Review of U.S. Programs, Science and Global Security, 2009, 17: 1, 1-19, DOI: 10.1080 / 08929880802335816

3 Officially titled: "Atomic Energy for Military Purposes: The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb Under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940-1945)" .shtml

4 Unless stated otherwise, the source for this part is: J. Kistemaker: "De geschiedenis van het Nederlandse Ultracentrifuge Project. Hoe een nieuwe industrie ontstond" ("The history of the Dutch Ultracentrifuge Project. How a new industry came about"), FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics, 1991

5 CPN: Kistemaker en de Duitse A-bom (CPN: Kistemaker and the German A-bomb), November 1960

6 Bernd-A Rusinek; Urananreicherung in Nordrhein-West-falen" ("Uraniumenrichment in North Rhine-Westphalia"), 2012 p4:

7 Paul Laufs; Reaktorsicherheit für Leistungskernkraftwerke 1: Die Entwicklung im politischen und technischen Umfeld der Bundesrepublik Deutschland" ("Reaction of the Leistungskernkraftwerke 1: The Entwicklung im politischen und technicalen Umfeld der Bundesrepublik Deutschland"); Springer Verlag, 2013 p32

8 See among others: Stephan Geier; Schwellenmacht: Bonns heimliche Atomdiplomatie von Adenauer bis Schmidt" ("Schwellenmacht: Bonn's secret Nuclear diplomacy from Adenauer bis Schmidt"), 2013 p17-21

9 Annex II at:

10 Stephan Geier; "Schwellenmacht. Bonn's nostalgic Atom diplomacy from Adenauer to Schmidt"; 2013

11 Bernd-A Rusinek; "Urananreicherung in Nordrhein Westfalen", 2012 p4:

12 Britain's Nuclear Weapons, visited 19-01-2010

13 Urenco UK Centrifuge Enrichtment Plant Capenhurst, Corporate Brochure undated (1977)


The main activity of the Urenco Enrichment Company is enriching uranium for energy companies to make uranium suitable for use in nuclear power plants. That enrichment is expressed in enrichment work or SWU (Separative Work Units); 1 SWU is equivalent to 1 kg of separation labor. An enrichment installation with a capacity of 1,000 tons of SWU per year can enrich uranium for around eight 1000 MW nuclear power plants annually. Urenco provides enrichment work at the four enrichment plants: Eunice (US), Capenhurst (UK), Gronau (D) and Almelo (NL).

3.1 Company structure

As we saw in Chapter 1, two companies were established with the signing of the Treaty of Almelo in 1970: Urenco Ltd and Centec GmbH. Urenco Ltd was a marketing company ‒ the joint sales organization of UCN, Uranit and BNFL ‒ that represented the interests of the various enrichment plants. Centec coordinated technological developments (R&D).

A major reorganization followed in August 1993 whereby Urenco Ltd became a holding company of Urenco NL, Urenco Deutschland, Urenco UK and later also Urenco USA. Centec ends its existence and merges with the holding company. With this reorganization, Urenco Ltd becomes more than just a sales organization; it becomes the owner of the three (later four) enrichment plants. And the countries of the Almelo Treaty: the Netherlands (via UCN), Germany (RWE and E.On via Uranit), United Kingdom (via BNFL) then become the owner of Urenco Ltd. Until 1993, the individual Urenco enrichment plants were more or less "national" plants with Urenco Ltd as a joint sales organization. After the reorganization, the enrichment factories became part of the international consortium that the Contracting Parties own: with the result that the enrichment factory in Almelo became equally shared by the Netherlands, Germany and the UK, like those in Gronau and Capenhurst (and later Eunice).

Further legal restructuring is carried out in 2003, after which Urenco Ltd consists of two parts: Urenco Enrichment Company (UEC ‒ which focuses on enrichment) and Enrichment Technology Company (ETC ‒ which focuses on the manufacture of enrichment installations).1

The shares of Urenco Ltd are, as stated, one-third in the hands of the Dutch State through the Ultra Centrifuge Nederland NV2 based in Groningen; one-third owned by the UK government through Enrichment Investment Limited3 and one-third owned by Uranit UK Ltd,4 in turn 100% subsidiary of Uranit GmbH based in Jülich. Uranit is in turn owned by the German energy companies E.On (50%) and RWE (50%).

Urenco Enrichment Company has four enrichment plants: Capenhurst (UK), Gronau (Germany), Almelo (the Netherlands) and Eunice, New Mexico (USA). A total of 1,500 people work in the four enrichment facilities.5

3.2 Enrichment Technology Company

ETC (Enrichment Technology Company Ltd.) could be seen as the "successor" of Centec. ETC was established in October 2003 and in 2006 ETC became a joint venture between the French Areva (nowadays Orano) and Urenco Ltd (or actually 50% Orano, 22% Urenco Ltd and 28% Urenco Deutschland). This was laid down in the July 2005 Treaty of Cardiff6 on cooperation in the field of centrifuge technology between the three Urenco countries and France.

ETC has the exclusive responsibility to develop, produce, supply and install gas centrifuges on behalf of Urenco. In principle, all centrifuge enrichment plants that work with ETC technology in Europe and the United States are so-called black boxes; that is, the technology in the factories is not available to the enrichment companies that operate the factories. In practice, there are a few 'grey' areas where the ETC has shared a limited amount of compartmentalized classified information with the nuclear regulatory authorities that want assurance that the plants are safe.7 ETC has plants in Almelo, Capenhurst and Jülich.

The stagnation in the capacity of the Urenco enrichment plants naturally also has consequences for ETC. Mass redundancies were announced in October 2012: about two-thirds of ETC jobs worldwide were lost: 1,400 out of 2000. For the Almelo plant, this means a loss of 240 out of a total of 800 jobs.8 The price of enrichment work is currently too low to add or even replace production capacity.9

3.3 Reason for founding Urenco

The origin and history of Urenco is closely linked to the research and development of ultracentrifuge technology, now the most used method for uranium enrichment. During the 1960s and 1970s, there were high growth expectations of nuclear energy for energy production, with a consequent need for uranium enrichment capacity.

The history of Urenco is also closely linked to the desire of Western Europe to be independent of the US with regard to nuclear reactors and enriched uranium. The US did not authorize the reprocessing of nuclear fuel with US-enriched uranium; and that was almost everything at the time. However, Germany, the United Kingdom and France wanted to reprocess used nuclear fuel in order to remove the plutonium. Officially, they wanted to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors, such as Kalkar in Germany or Phenix in France. Breeder reactors were considered necessary because a shortage of uranium was expected, mainly due to the (apparently unrealistic) expected growth in (nuclear) energy consumption. By enriching the required uranium themselves, Western European countries were able to reprocess the spent fuel and thus develop their own industrial plutonium infrastructure. The two nuclear weapon options also remained open through an own enrichment industry, which could, after all, be obtained either by highly enriched uranium or by reprocessed plutonium.

3.4 Growth of Urenco

But by the time Urenco opened its first commercial enrichment plants, Capenhurst on 15 September 1977 and Almelo on 25 October 1977, it was clear that far fewer nuclear power plants would be built than was expected years earlier.10 Instead of a shortage of enriched uranium, demand was then only half of global production capacity. Owing to the overcapacity and the large stocks of enriched uranium resulting in the low prices that the US and Russia demanded for enrichment work, it took until 1983 for Urenco to make a profit.11 The money needed for research, development, construction and operation of uranium enrichment, centrifuges and enrichment plants have been largely paid for by the three governments involved.

Nevertheless, Urenco succeeds in conquering a place in a market that is already plagued by overcapacity and since the mid-80s, the company makes a profit every year.12

The growth of Urenco (from newcomer to global player) in those decades is due to two factors: enriching with ultracentrifuge technology is much cheaper due to the much lower energy consumption: "However, because Urenco has been able to offer competitive prices, its market share grew", the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs explains in 1987.13

In addition, the large enrichment plants in Russia and the US were from the Second World War or just after and in the 1980s, therefore, they were old and in need of replacement. But especially Urenco grew due to failures in the US. There, the policy was aimed at laser enrichment replacing the old diffusion plants. But the failure of that technology ‒ along with the failure to realize replacement centrifuge enrichment capacity14 ‒ caused the US market share to fall dramatically and eventually evaporate completely. Urenco was able to take over that market almost entirely. The big competitor, the Russian Tenex, had much less access to the western market.

3.5 Privatization

Four years after the Dutch State had become 100% owner of UCN,15 the Dutch government announced in May 2013 that it wanted to sell its shares.16 The main reason given by the then Finance Minister Dijsselbloem is that the United Kingdom wants to privatize its shares, The German share is already owned by companies, so it makes no sense to hold a minority share.

Three years later, in November 2016, it is clear that the sales plans are stuck and have actually failed. The British government and the German shareholders also apparently abandoned the intention. The stumbling block seems be "safeguarding public interests": the shareholders do want to sell but because of the sensitivity of the enrichment technology they also want to keep commitments from buyers and control over a number of aspects.17

It could be that the sale of Urenco will be high on the agenda again in the coming years, and then with a surprising buyer: the United States. The US government could be interested in Urenco because, in the absence of its own enrichment plant, it could get a shortage of enriched uranium that is not covered by international treaties and can therefore be used for its military program. The purchase of Urenco would be one of the options to get that "unobligated uranium". (See chapters on tritium and HALEU).

Start-up costs

The Netherlands invested 1.2 billion guilders (€530 million) in Urenco from 1970 to 1983.1 This amount roughly corresponds to the German government's 'contribution to Urenco in the period 1970‒1992: 1.16 billion DM (€558 million).2

The financial contributions of the countries in the development of uranium enrichment in the period prior to 1970 are more difficult to trace, but it will be a total of several hundred million guilders for the Netherlands.3 Slightly more precise figures are available for West Germany, but still incomplete: DM 30 million was spent from 1958 to 1967, DM 104 million in the following three years (1968‒1970).4

1 Kansen op aanzienlijke nucleaire ontwikkeling" ("Opportunities for significant nuclear development"), Dagblad Tubantia 20-1-1984
3 See, among others, Nota Langman "Kosten kernenergie en kern-physica 1955-1969" ("Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Physics Costs 1955-1969") in which uranium enrichment costs have been placed withïn the RCN, FOM and NIOF research institutes:
4 "Geschichte der Kernenergie in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland" ("History of Nuclear Energy in the Federal Republic of Germany"), Wolfgang D. Müller, 1990 p527 / 8


3.6 Decline in earning capacity

If the period up to 2010 was Urenco's golden period, the following years should be seen as a turning point. Japan, Urenco's largest customer outside of Europe and the US, largely fell away after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, but ‒ more importantly ‒ the expected "comeback" of nuclear energy did not take place. And that was not without consequences.

3.6.1 Shrinking production

In the meantime, the overcapacity on the enrichment market (see Annex II: The history of the enrichment market) is so great ‒ largely due to the absence of the widely announced "nuclear renaissance" ‒ that the company became concerned. The price of an enrichment unit (SWU) reaches a historic low, and a different business strategy is being investigated, the Dutch Minister of Finance said in January 2017: "The global demand for enriched uranium and hence the potential earning capacity for Urenco has fallen. ... Urenco is currently developing a new strategy in which the decline in the demand for enriched uranium plays an important role."19

It is clear that Urenco has adapted to the changing market: enrichment capacity and production have decreased in recent years, even with the commissioning of a fourth enrichment plant in the US. And actual production is much less than the permitted maximum capacity: planned and licensed new capacity has not been built. Taking into account the bulk of the capacity increase ‒ Almelo in 201120, Gronau in 200521 and Eunice 201522 ‒ was licensed in the years the 'nuclear renaissance' was predicted, the canceling of new production capacity is only logical since the nuclear revival never materialized.

Table I: Urenco: capacity and production 1976‒2018 (in tSWU / y) 23


Licensed capacity































































3.6.2 Contracts and order book

Urenco has a worldwide market share of around 32% and is therefore the second largest uranium enricher: after the Russian Tenex, which has a market share of around 40%. These two companies therefore hold more than 70% of the world market. Orano (France) and CNNC (China) have 13% and 12% market share respectively. The remaining 3% are test installations in other countries.24

Urenco only discloses customer names in exceptional cases; nor is a list published in, for example, the Annual Report with companies (or nuclear power plants) for which Urenco is enriching uranium. In the last published Annual Report (for 2018), only "50 customers in 19 countries" are mentioned. That was different in the past: the Annual Report for 1985, for example, contained an overview with "Long Term Enrichment Customers."25 But ever since then, less and less customer information has been made public.

As a result, a self-compiled overview of countries where enriched uranium from Urenco is used is the highest attainable. In this case it was helped considerably by a presentation in 2016 in South Africa by Urenco's Marketing and Sales manager about Urenco's "'pivotal role in the nuclear fuel cycle"'.26

With that information we come to the following countries: Belgium, Brazil, China, Germany, Finland, France, Japan,27 the Netherlands, Ukraine, Slovenia, Spain, Taiwan, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, United States, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland. But those are 20 countries and not 19. The reason may be that enrichment for the latest contract (signed in 2016 with the Ukrainian Energoatom)28 is not yet taking place.

Enrichment contracts are generally concluded for 10 years or longer. The order book is €10.6 billion and "extends to the first half of the 2030s".29 The Annual Report for 2010 reports an order book "in excess of €21 billion of future sales."30 A clear decrease and again an indication that nuclear energy is in the doldrums and with it the enrichment industry. Although Urenco's market share has risen slightly in that period (see above), this indicates more of a shift in market share within the group of existing producers than of market growth.

Table II: Development of installed nuclear capacity


Number of nuclear reactors

Totale capacity MW



















2020 *



* These are figures from the IAEA, which also includes the 24 Japanese reactors that have been out of operation for almost 9 years, but for which no decision has yet been made as to what will happen to them. In reality, therefore, there are more than 20 fewer nuclear plants in operation as listed here
** The capacity is from the end of 2019 (the latest figures on the IAEA webpage) (as of 8 Feb. 2020) and includes the 24 Japanese nuclear power plants.

3.6.3 Urenco market share

Urenco's market share grew from 7% in 198531 19% in 200432, 29% in 201133 to 32% now.34

Clearly visible is a flattening in the growth figures and it can be expected that the market share will fall rather than rise in the coming years. There are a number of reasons for this: the traditional market of Urenco (Western Europe ‒ minus France ‒ and North America) is stagnating, nuclear power stations are being built very slowly while many nuclear power stations will be closed.

The growth market for nuclear energy is located in the Far East and especially in China, with its own enrichment industry. If, in addition, nuclear power stations are to be built, they will be built almost exclusively by the Russian Rosatom, with which enrichment contracts will automatically go to the Russian Tenex. And finally: the US will in any case set up its own enrichment industry, necessary to produce enriched uranium that can be used for military purposes.

Table III: SWU production (in tonnes of SWU per year)35





US (without Urenco)




Russia (Soviet Union)




France (Eurodif)




















3.7 Trading in enriched uranium

Urenco always attaches great importance to making it clear that it does not own the uranium it enriches: the uranium is and remains the property of the customer; Urenco only provides a service: enrichment work. However, that does not mean that Urenco itself does not have uranium; it even probably possesses enriched uranium. The depleted uranium, which arises from enrichment, becomes the property of Urenco. Convenient for the customer, who, because of thisarrangement, has no responsibility for the safe and long-term storage of this waste product. That depleted uranium can be re-enriched again and sometimes that happens; in its own enrichment plants or at a competitor such as Tenex in Russia. What happens next with that uranium is opaque, but the only possibility is that Urenco itself also trades in (enriched) uranium.

Urenco actually never reveals which of the four factories is used for which customer; that depends on the capacity. There also appears to be a constant flow of uranium transports between the various enrichment plants; very broad permits make that possible. Such permits, from which detailed transport flows cannot be distilled, also ensure little transparency in this area. Transport overviews have occasionally been published by the German parliament and the state of Nordrhein Westfalen,36 but such lists have not (yet) been made public for Almelo, Capenhurst and Eunice.

3.8 Stable isotopes37

In the new business strategy announced in 2017 "in which the decline in the demand for enriched uranium plays an important role", the stable isotopes department could play an important role. Centrifuges are used in this department to purify certain non-radioactive (stable) isotopes.

In addition to industrial applications, these stable isotopes mainly serve as a raw material for the production of short-lived radioisotopes that are used in imaging technology in medical diagnostics and in cancer therapies. These short-lived isotopes can then be produced in nuclear reactors, but also, and increasingly, in cyclotrons and other particle accelerators; without nuclear fission, uranium and highly radioactive waste. The raw material required for the production of medical isotopes are specific stable isotopes.

Many elements are naturally present as a mixture of one or more isotopes. For example, natural molybdenum, like natural uranium, contains various isotopes. One particular isotope thereof serves as a raw material for the production of a certain type of medical isotope. To get it as pure as possible, it must be enriched. This enrichment can be done in all kinds of ways such as distillation and diffusion, but also with ultracentrifuge.

That is what happens in Almelo too, because they have technology for enrichment. Urenco started enriching stable isotopes in 1990 in Almelo as a research and development activity. In the years that followed, the product portfolio grew steadily to more than 30 isotopes of 10 elements for all kinds of medical and industrial applications. Urenco Stable Isotopes has been operating as an autonomous business unit within Urenco since the mid-1990s. The production of these types of isotopes takes place in separate installations. Therefore, radioactive contamination cannot occur; it is a completely separate part.

There is nothing wrong with this production, but it does not have to be connected in any way to Urenco or to the nuclear industry in general. Although this business unit seems to be growing fast, Urenco does not want to make any statements about the turnover of it or its percentage within total business turnover.

The Stable Isotopes department is undoubtedly one of Urenco's responses to the decline in "global demand for enriched uranium and thereby the potential earning capacity of Urenco", as noted by the Dutch government.38 But in addition, production for medical purposes is played out in the media as justification for the nuclear industry.39

3.9 Sponsoring; buying consent

What immediately stands out on the websites of the various Urenco enrichment plants is the attention to the local community. That is called "Supporting our local communities". Urenco invests extensively, but relatively small amounts, in organizations in the area: from billiards clubs, sports clubs, local media, animal ambulances to New Year's concerts. A commendable aim? Perhaps. And certainly important for the local grocer who has to convince the neighbors to buy fruit and vegetables at his / her store. But Urenco does not have customers like that in the local community at all. And so this is about something else: buying consent; building goodwill and smothering critical voices, by creating a financial dependence.

To which problems this can lead becomes clear in 2013 when the public library in Almelo cancels an exhibition about Urenco and the major demonstration '35 years later' at the last minute.40 Reason: the library is sponsored by Urenco and the director therefore thinks it is "a matter of decency and based on our partnership not reasonable to cooperate". There is brief commotion in the local media,41 but that quickly ebbs away. However, the impression remains that if you do not want to jeopardize your financial contribution, one should not accommodate criticism about Urenco. Buying consent.


1 When we write Urenco, we mean, unless otherwise stated, Urenco Enrichment Company




5 Urenco, Annual Report and Accounts 2018, p80


7 "Would Urenco's Sale Pose a Proliferation Risk?" Hibbs, Rengifo, October 21, 2013;

8 "Enrichment Technology Company in Almelo ontslaat een derde van personeel" ("Enrichment Technology Company in Almelo dismisses a third of its staff") RTV Oost, 2 oktober 2013:

9 SWU-mergence: Reawakening of the Enrichment Market, in presentation Jonathan Hinze, President UxC, LLC, on NEI IUFS, 29 October 2019 p12

10 Urenco Centec News 4, November 1977

11 UCN Report on the year 1983, p13

12 Except in 2016:­jard-verlies-urenco-te-veel-c...

13 Answers Minister De Korte (15 April 1987) to questions by Lankhorst, House of Representatives, 1986‒1987 session

14 See ANNEX II on the history of the enrichment market

15 See Chapter 4 about the Urenco plant at Almelo

16 "Voorgenomen verkoop aandelen Urenco" ("Intended sale of Urenco shares"), Letter from the Minister of Finance, 23 May 2013

17 "Minister over verkoop Urenco: Duitse aandeelhouders liggen dwars" ("Minister about sale of Urenco: German shareholders are blocking"), Laka Foundation, November 1, 2016


19 Debate on state participations, list of questions and answers, 18 January 2017;




23 Figures from the relevant annual reports

24 SWU-mergence: Reawakening of the Enrichment Market, presentation by Jonathan Hinze, President UxC, LLC, on NEI IUFS, October 29, 2019
Urenco 1986, Urenco. July 1986, p4

25 Urenco 1986; Urenco Nov. 1986, p4

26 "The Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Urenco's pivotal role in this Cycle"; Michael Bryant, Manager, Marketing and Sales, March 2016.

27 "Focus on our customers", Cascade, Spring 2007, p17


29 Annual Report and Accounts 2019, p.6

30 Urenco Annual Report and Accounts 2010 p3

31 Report for the year 1985, Ultra-Centrifuge Nederland NV, 1986 p8

32 2004 Annual report and Accounts, Urenco, 2005

33 2011 Annual report and Accounts, Urenco, 2012

34 SWU-mergence: Reawakening of the Enrichment Market, presentation by Jonathan Hinze, President UxC, LLC, on NEI IUFS, October 29, 2019 p12

35 For sources see Annex II

36 See ao

37 Based on: "Verrijking van grondstof voor medische iso­topen bij Urenco" ("Enrichment of raw materials for medical isotopes at Urenco"), factsheet Laka, November 2012; Urenco Stable Isotopes corporate brochure, June 2011; personal communication Laka and Urenco, September 2013


39 See for example: "Urenco Almelo gaat 200.000 patiënten per jaar helpen" ("Urenco Almelo is going to help 200,000 patients a year"), Tubantia, 3 February 2018

40 "Bibliotheek Almelo pleegt zelfcensuur" ("Almelo Library commits self-censorship"), Tubantia, 12 February 2013

41 See for example De Roskam 15 February 2013 and Tubantia 14 February 2013


The Urenco Enrichment Company has enrichment facilities on two continents in four countries: from the outset in Capenhurst (United Kingdom) and Almelo (Netherlands); from 1985 in Gronau in Germany and from 2010 in Eunice, in the United States. Below are the details of the different locations. The policy regarding depleted uranium, which varies from location to location, is described in chapter 5.

4.1 Urenco NL: Almelo

For the Dutch location of the enrichment plant, Almelo is preferred to a site between Gulpen and Maastricht, officially due to the particularly firm and vibration-free surface. But the site is also owned by one of the shareholders of UCN: Philips. The site in Almelo is already purchased on 12 March 1969, one day after the signing of the agreement-in-principle between West Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The construction of the centrifuging plant begins on 26 June that year and UCN, Ultra Centrifuge Nederland, is set up on 4 November. UCN is a collaboration between industry and the Dutch state, but that will change quite quickly.

When the treaty was signed in Almelo on 4 March 1970, the site a few kilometers away was already under development. Already in November 1970, SP1, the first Separation Plant, with a capacity of 25 tSWU / y was put into operation and the German pilot plant SP2, which is also located in Almelo, with a capacity of 5 tSWU / y, followed in October 1972.

At the beginning of the 1970s it was already clear that the Dutch centrifuges considered to be superior1 were not satisfactory and the evaluation committee of Centec (responsible for the development and construction of the centrifuges) therefore wrote off the Dutch design in 1973. Almelo continues with the German G2 design, according to German specifications.2

In the meantime, uranium enrichment and especially cooperation with Germany are under considerable pressure from publications from mainly the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN): it would give the German revanchists the opportunity to build an atomic bomb.3 This claim, not at all out of thin air as it turns out,4 is swept away as cold war rhetoric. But a number of other "affairs" in the late 1970s are causing huge the opposition (also within parliament) against UCN and the future of the plant is under pressure.

In 1974, nuclear fuel that was enriched in Almelo was loaded at the Dodewaard nuclear power plant: it was the first contractual delivery of enriched uranium5 and on 25 October 1977 the first commercial department, the SP3, was officially commissioned.6

At the time UCN receives the license for expansion to 1000 tSWU / y (SP4) on 8 February 1978, this is on the eve of the largest demonstration ever at any Urenco plant. The demonstration on March 4 that year with the central slogan "No expansion of the UCN" attracts 45,000 to 50,000 people.7 An important reason for the large participation is the planned delivery of enriched uranium to the military dictatorship in Brazil.

At the end of the 1970s and in the 1980s, UCN Almelo continued to attract negative media attention, among other things due to Khan's nuclear espionage and the enrichment of South African-stolen uranium from occupied Namibia,8 but the company gradually disappears out of the spotlight.

Because the industry announced in 1976 that it had lost faith in the centrifuge factory and no longer wanted to invest, the costs of capacity expansion were entirely borne by the Dutch State. As a result, the share of industry is falling from 45 to 1.1%. In October 2009, the Dutch State buys the last 1.1% of the shares for an amount of 17 million euros.9

Table IV: Shareholders Ultra Centrifuge Nederland (in%)



Dutch State


45 *








* Industry 45%: RSV, VMFStork 7.5% each; Philips, Shell, DSM 10% each

Although Urenco as a whole is expanding and the capacity of the Almelo plant is also increasing considerably, that does not mean that the Almelo branch is going strong.10 One week after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, an enormous extension permit is being applied for, but the nuclear energy market is collapsing due to that nuclear disaster. Although the 3500 tSWU / y license was issued in March 1987, UCN announced at the beginning of 1988 that it would not extend. What follows are years of uncertainty about permits: the Council of State nullifies a number of licences and the government is issuing a number of temporarily permits to grant continuation of production.

After the very delayed opening of SP5 in March 2000 (bringing the capacity to 2500 tSWU / y), UCN will only be granted another permit for 3500 tSWU / y11 in October 2005 and another increase in capacity to 4500 tSWU /y will be licensed in 2007. Just before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, UCN is applying for a permit for 6200 tSWU / y. Although that permit is granted on 28 October 28 2011, once again the expansion will fall far behind schedule: in 2018, production was 5200 tSWU / y; 300 tons less than in 2012.

4.1.1 Aeronamic

The company Aeronamic is a collaboration between UCN and the University of Twente.12 It was created in 1988 as a spin-off of Urenco, called Urenco Aerospace and applied the Urenco knowledge of high-speed machines for aviation purposes. Aeronamic became independent in 2005 and is currently an "internationally leading player in the aviation industry."13 A major customer is the defense industry for the production of the F-35 fighter jets.

4.2 Urenco UK: Capenhurst

As a result of the partly military character of the British enrichment industry, Capenhurst remained for a long time a shared property with two owners: British Nuclear Fuel Ltd (who worked for the British military sector and was also the British shareholder of Urenco) and Urenco Ltd.

Uranium has been enriched in Capenhurst since 1953,14 but from 1968 on the emphasis shifts more and more from the development of diffusion to that of centrifuges.15

In 1972, a centrifuge test installation with an enrichment capacity of 14 tSWU / y was commissioned in one of the existing gas diffusion halls.16

The first commercial centrifuge facility in Capenhurst, the E21, came into operation in 1976 and was officially commissioned on September 15, 197717; it was the first in the world to commercially enrich uranium by means of centrifuges. With the commission of the E22 in 1982, capacity was expanded and with the E23 in 1997.18 The E23 is by far the most important component and produces approximately 80% of the total capacity in Capenhurst.19

The Capenhurst A3 production part opened in 1984 was built for military purposes (submarine fuel; the contract for construction came from the Royal Navy)20 but never produced highly enriched uranium; but it did produce uranium that was enriched more than 5% for export to the US to be enriched further to highly enriched uranium or to be exchanged with the US for highly enriched uranium for military purposes.21

According to the Treaty of Almelo, it is possible for the UK, as a nuclear-weapon state, to further enrich uranium enriched in a Urenco installation for use in nuclear weapons.22 However, the British government has stated that if it does ‒ it will only do so with enriched uranium from the 'British' Urenco plant in Capenhurst and not with uranium enriched at Almelo or Gronau.23 Or as the Dutch then PvdA MP Relus ter Beek reacted when there was some concern about of the English plans: "The technique of the centrifuge method is owned by each of the countries and they may therefore use it for their own military purposes."24

The years 1991/92 are economically disastrous for Capenhurst. At the beginning of 1991, the Ministry of Defense terminates the contract with the BNFL plant, which costs 400 jobs25 and a year later another 550 jobs disappear "because of the collapse of the world market since the end of the Cold war."26 Since 2012 Urenco UK ‒ the British subsidiary of Urenco Ltd ‒ is the only permit holder of the site. According to the latest figures,27 Capenhurst has an enrichment capacity of 4,600 tSWU / y.

In Capenhurst, the Urenco Tails Management Facility was put into operation in 2019 to convert depleted uranium hexafluoride into a more stable solid oxide form (more about this in Chapter 5 on depleted uranium).

In addition, the Urenco site in Capenhurst will see the storage of dismantled nuclear reactors (RPVs: Reactor Pressure Vessels) from nuclear submarines, the British Ministry of Defense (MOD) announced in July 2016.28 CNS (Capenhurst Nuclear Services ‒ a Urenco subsidiary and renamed Urenco Nuclear Stewardship at the end of 201729) will be responsible for storing the RPVs until there is a [geological] disposal facility. The establishment of such a disposal facility will, as in many other countries, take some time in Great Britain.

4.3 Urenco Deutschland: Gronau

Whether it was the result of restrictions on the production of nuclear fuel on German territory after the Second World War or the ongoing negotiations on West-German accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty,30 in any case the three countries decided the German enrichment plant to be built on Dutch territory: namely on the Urenco site in Almelo. In September 1971, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs issued the Nuclear Energy Act license for the construction of the SP2: Separation Plant 2. In July 1974, the license for the construction of the joint German-Dutch 200 tSWU / y enrichment plant, the SP3, followed.

In 1978 the governments of the three Urenco countries agreed to build an enrichment plant in Germany, based on (of course secret) agreements in the Joint Committee from 1974 and 1977. The agreement would be that if the total Urenco installed capacity reached 2,000 tSWU / y the construction of an enrichment plant in West Germany would be possible. The Dutch parliament had in fact agreed in June 197831 to expand capacity of Urenco Almelo, on the assumption that it would prevent the construction of a West German plant.

Founded in August 1969, Uranit applied in March 1978 for the first permit for the construction of the enrichment plant in Gronau, 40 km from Almelo.

In 1985 the first part of the enrichment plant with a capacity of 40 tSWU / y went into operation and in 1989 400 tSWU/y was reached and an extension permit up to 1,000 tSWU / y was also issued. Following a license for capacity expansion to 1,800 tSWU / y in 1997, Urenco Gronau received the current license for an enrichment capacity of 4,500 tSWU / y in February 2005.32 At the same time, an amendment was made to the maximum percentage uranium can be enriched: 6% uranium 235, which was 5% since the commissioning in 1985.33

4.3.1 Urenco and the Atom Ausstieg

Urenco's enrichment plant has been kept outside the German Atom Ausstieg (nuclear power phase-out), just like the nuclear fuel elements production plant in Lingen. On 27 February 2018, the fractions of Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen and Die Linke in the German Bundestag submitted a bill34 to include the nuclear facilities in Gronau and Lingen into the Ausstieg.

The Atom Ausstieg only concerns nuclear power stations, the last of which (also in Lingen) must be closed in 2022. The bill did not make it: it was voted down in March 2019.35 But the call for a consistent and comprehensive Ausstieg only grew and in December 2019 it was announced that Environment Minister Schulze is working on a ban on exports of nuclear fuel elements from Lingen to 'grenznahe' nuclear power stations. This would concern nuclear power plants that are more than 30 years old and less than 150 km from the German border.36 Such a prohibition is mainly aimed at the reactors Tihange in Belgium and Fessenheim in France; nuclear power plants that have serious doubts about safety. But with a ban on nuclear fuel elements, an export ban for enriched uranium for the same category nuclear power plants seems only a logical next step. In total, such a ban would affect more than 10 nuclear reactors, including the one in Borssele.37

For many years now, Urenco Gronau is the Urenco plant where most protests take place. Since the end of 1986 (!) so called "Sonntagspaziergang" takes place on the first Sunday of every month; the 400th protest-walk was on 5 January 2020.38

4.4 Urenco US: Eunice

In the spring of 2010, the Urenco enrichment plant in Eunice, in the US state of New Mexico, was put into operation. The National Enrichment Facility is owned by Urenco's daughter Louisiana Enrichment Services (LES). The "Establishment, Construction and Operation of a Uranium Enrichment Installation in the United States" was made possible by the Treaty of Washington signed in July 1992 and the use of "Gas Centrifuge Technology in the United States of America" ​​by the Treaty of Paris.

LES had already applied for a permit in 1989 for an enrichment plant in Homer, in the state of Louisiana, which should have been operational in 1996. But due to strong local opposition ‒ organized in Citizens Against Nuclear Trash ‒ there came no permit and for a special reason: CANT reasoned that the choice of location, Homer, was based on "environmental racism". Of all the hundreds of potential locations that LES looked at for its plant, Homer was the one with the highest percentage of African Americans and with the lowest incomes on average. And that argument from CANT was taken up by the nuclear regulator, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which refused the permit.39 The first time that environmental justice had a determining role.

But the US market, with 100 nuclear power plants, the world's largest market, continued to lure, and after a second failed attempt in 2002 in Hartsville, Tennessee,40 LES made another attempt in the state of New Mexico. In 2006, Urenco received a permit for an enrichment plant with a production of 5,700 tSWU / y41 five miles (8 km) outside of Eunice. The first uranium was enriched in June 201042 and in March 2015 Urenco USA received a permit for a maximum capacity of 10,000 tSWU / y,43 with which it could be the largest Urenco enrichment plant. But here too the actual production is a lot less: by the end of 2018 they had not even achieved the production of the old permit: 4,900 tSWU / y.44

In February 2019, Urenco USA announced that it wants to produce HALEU.45 HALEU (High Assay Low Enriched Uranium) is 19.75% enriched uranium. The plant is allowed, according to its permit, to enrich to a maximum of 5%, but so far produced LEU at levels of approximately 4.5%. But the facility can be converted to enrich up to 19.75%.46 That percentage is still called "low-enriched" uranium. (See chapter 6: HALEU)

Urenco's Treaties
Treaty of Almelo1
Signed 4 March 1970; entry into force 19 July 1971
Agreement between the Troika states (Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) for the development and operation of the gas centrifuge process for the production of enriched uranium. It must primarily deal with non-proliferation issues: to prevent other than then existing nuclear weapons states to use this this technology to produce nuclear weapons. The Treaty also regulates the supervision by the three governments in the Joint Committee, and at the same time stipulates that all documents will remain secret, without public access.
Treaty of Washington2
Signed 24 July 1992; entry into force 1 Feb 1995
Agreement between the Troika states (Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) and the US government. The treaty allows the transfer of classified (secret) information to the US ‒ necessary for Urenco to open a uranium enrichment plant in the US. The treaty stipulates that the conditions that are agreed in the Treaty of Almelo also apply to the US.
Treaty of Cardiff3
Signed 12 July 2005; entry into force 1 July 2006
Agreement between the Troika states and the French government: the treaty allows the creation of Enrichment Technology Company; the 50/50 joint venture with Areva (now Orano): ETC will develop and build centrifuges. Urenco and Orano agree to ensure that they remain competitors in the field of enrichment.
Treaty of Paris4
Signed 24 Jan. 2011; entry into force 31 Jan. 2012
Agreement between the Troika states, the French government and the US government that allows the transfer of ETC technology in the US. This treaty is explicitly not about the Urenco enrichment plant in Eunice, which is from Urenco, but about any new enrichment facilities to be built in the US that can be equipped with technology developed by ETC and therefore essentially from Urenco.



1 UCN director Boogaardt in interview with Tubantia, 7 July 1970

2 "Jaap Kistemaker en uraniumverrijking in Nederland 1945-1962" ("Jaap Kistemaker and uranium enrichment in the Netherlands 1945-1962"), Abel Streefland, 2017 p263

3 "De Ultracentrifuge 1937-1970 Hitlers bom voor Strauss?" ("The Ultracentrifuge 1937-1970 Hitler's bomb for Strauss?"), Wim Klinkenberg, 1971

4 See, for example, "Bonn und die Bombe, Deutsche Atomwaffenpolitik von Adenauer bis Brandt", Matthias Küntzel, 1992

5 "Nederlandse splijtstofelementen in kerncentrale Dodewaard" ("Dutch nuclear fuel elements in the Dodewaard nuclear power plant"), Atoomenergie en haar toepassingen,, October 1974 p209

6 Urenco centecnews, n4, November 1977


8 See Chapter 7: History of scandals

9 Deelnemingenbeleid Rijksoverheid (Participation policy State government), Letter from the Minister of Finance 12 October 2009, Lower House Meeting year 2009-2010, 28 165 nr 103

10 For the following overview, use was made of


12 Company website, visited 18/02/2020:

13 High-tech Almelo; website, visited 18-02-2020

14 Britain's Nuclear Weapons, visited 19-01-2020

15 "Urenco UK Centrifuge Enrichtment Plant Capenhurst", company brochure undated (1977)

16 "Geschichte der Kernenergie in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland" ("History ofNuclear Energy in the Federal Republic of Germany"), Wolfgang D. Müller, 1990 p528

17 Urenco Centec News 4, November 1977

18 "Profile of World Uranium Enrichment Programs-2009", M.D.Laughter, ORNL, April 2009:


20 "Navy approves plant for submarine fuel", Financial Times, 30 June 1982

21 "Germany and Euratom slow down enhanced centrifuge safeguards", Nuclear Fuel, Vol.22, No.9, 5 May 1997, p12

22 Article VI, paragraph 2 according to the Treaty of Almelo, Mr. EP.M.W. Domsdorf, 1976, p29

23 Until the restructuring of Urenco in 1993, the various enrichment plants were much more "owned" by the country concerned. See chapter 3: Company structure

24 "Milieudefensie verontrust over levering uranium" ("Friends of the Earth worried about the delivery of uranium"), Volkskrant, August 18, 1982

25 "MOD cancels enrichment contract", Atom 412, April 1991

26 "BNFL to cut 550 uranium plant jobs", Financial Times, May 21, 1992

27 Urenco Annual Report and Accounts 2018

28 press release MOD, 7 July 2016:


30 Various authors, such as Jaap Kistemaker in his "Geschiedenis van het Nedelandse centrifuge project", and also lawyer Domsdorf in his analysis "Vedrga van Almelo" (Treaty of Almelo) emphasize that the reason were the NPT negotiations

31 See, inter alia, the press statement from the National Energy Committee and the Brazil Committee of 30 June 1978:





36 "Schulze will umstrittene Brennelemente-Exporte verbieten" ("Schulze wants ban controversial fuel element exports"), SZ, December 5, 2019;


38 ScharfLinks, January 3, 2010:

39 "Homer, Louisiana, nuclear nonsense"; Earthjustice:


41 "Louisiana Energy Services Gas Centrifuge Facility The History of Licensing"; NRC

42 "Urenco USA starts enrichment", Nuclear Engineering International; 29 June 2010


44 Urenco Annual Report and Accounts 2018, p9

45 "Urenco USA Inc. announces next-step HALEU activities ", 5 February 2019;

46 "White Paper on High Assay Low Enriched Uranium", Jeffrey S. Merrifield, Febr. 2018;


The nuclear energy chain produces huge amounts of radioactive waste. Often there is only attention for the highly radioactive waste from a nuclear power plant, but with every step in the cycle waste streams are released. This starts with the mining of uranium, where large quantities of uranium ore are left behind and in which 90% of the radioactive radon gas is present, with all its consequences for the local population. Even with enrichment, the vast majority (85%) remains behind as waste: depleted uranium (DU). There are differences between Urenco plants about what happens with DU, but dumping of large quantities in Russian Siberia is always one of the options

5.1 DU: Origin and quantities

For one 1,000 MW power plant (the Dutch Borssele nuclear power plant is about half), about 29 tons of UO2 (uranium dioxide) are needed per year. That is 38 tons of enriched UF6 and to get that, 306 tons of natural UF6 is needed (and about 120 tSWU). For 306 tonnes of natural UF6, it is necessary to extract approximately 108,482 tons of uranium ore from the ground. Depleted uranium (DU) is the residual product ‒ waste ‒ from enrichment. Every kilo of enriched uranium (with an enrichment rate of 3.6%) yields more than 7 kilos of depleted uranium. To enable enrichment through gas centrifuges, the uranium must be converted to uranium hexafluoride or UF6. UF6 is gaseous at a relatively low temperature (56° C).

Huge amounts of depleted uranium have arisen as a result of 70 years of uranium enrichment; the vast majority in the chemical form of uranium hexafluoride.

Theoretically, it is possible to extract even more fissionable uranium (U-235) from the depleted uranium, which contains on average still 0.2‒0.3% U-235. This re-enrichment depends on a number of economic factors: the price of "fresh" natural uranium, the price of enrichment and, nowadays, an excess of enrichment capacity (overcapacity). Re-enrichment is not effective in reducing the volume of depleted uranium, but it can be used (and is also used) to move those volumes: e.g. from Western Europe to Siberia.

The depleted UF6 is stored in containers awaiting a decision on what to do with it. At present, around two million tonnes of depleted UF6 are stored on factory sites worldwide, of which 800,000 tonnes (about 41%) in Russia1 and 700,000 tonnes in the US.2

A well-known civilian application of depleted uranium is its use as a counterweight in, for example, aircraft or ships. In the military industry, depleted uranium is mainly used in anti-tank munitions and in the armor of tanks and other armored vehicles. The US Army in particular has used large quantities of depleted uranium, with disastrous consequences for people and the environment.3 Russia also uses part of its huge supplies in military systems; recently also in new type of anti-tank ammunition: the Svinets-2.4

5.2 Uranium hexafluoride

Uranium hexafluoride is a highly toxic radioactive substance that becomes gaseous at a low temperature, 56 degrees Celsius, and can then easily spread in the air. It is also a substance that attracts water. When UF6 and water (e.g. in the air) come together, two different toxic substances are formed: hydrogen fluoride (HF) and uranyl fluoride (UO2F2). Hydrogen fluoride burns the eyes, mucous membranes and respiratory organs and can cause pulmonary edema. Even with short-term exposure (10 minutes) to a concentration of 800 mg / m3, this can result in death. Hydrogen fluoride is gaseous and spreads in the air. Uranyl fluoride is radioactive. It is also very toxic; it is corrosive and harmful by inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption. Ingestion or inhalation can be fatal. Effects of exposure can be delayed.5

5.3 Deconversion in Urenco's TMF

The conversion of uranium to uranium hexafluoride is called conversion. There are only a few factories worldwide that perform conversion. To store depleted uranium for a long time, it is necessary to convert the uranium hexafluoride back to a (chemically!) stable substance: uranium oxide or U3O8. This is called deconversion and is now happening, for Urenco's European enrichment factories, in Pierrelatte in the south of France. But that will change because in June 2019 the Tails Management Facility (TMF) was officially opened in Capenhurst. The TMF was supposed to go into operation for £400 million in 2015, but that became around £1 billion6 and due to start-up problems, the TMF was not yet in use at the official opening: "operations are planned to start in 2020," Urenco stated.7

The nominal deconversion capacity of the TMF is 14,000 tonnes per year, but that can be expanded.8 One tonne of UF6 becomes about 0.8 tonnes of U3O8 after deconversion.

When the depleted UF6 transports from Almelo and Gronau will go to Capenhurst instead of Pierrelatte, is not yet known in the case of Almelo9 but for Gronau this is certainly not earlier than 2024.

5.4 Storage of depleted uranium

Once the UF6 has been converted to U3O8, re-enrichment is no longer feasible, but other civilian or military applications remain possible. The U3O8 converted from Capenhurst (and now Pierrelatte) from Almelo and Gronau should be transported back to the Netherlands and Germany where it should then be stored. But what happens with it varies across Urenco countries.

5.4.1 Storage of DU in the Netherlands

Urenco has a permit to store 65,000 tons of natural and depleted uranium and 2,750 tons of enriched uranium UF6 at the Almelo site.10 That is, according to Urenco, the amount that is required for continuous operations. From 2004, the Dutch depleted U3O8 that comes back from Pierrelatte after deconversion11 is stored at the Covra in Zeeland, the Central Storage for Radioactive Waste in the Netherlands. Before that it was stored as UF6 in the open air on its own Almelo site12 and in the period 1995‒2009 more than 50,000 tons were exported to Russia. In the meantime, two special storage halls (Depleted uranium Storage Building; VOG-I and II) have been erected in Zeeland, in which the waste is stored until it is disposed of in the ‒ as yet unknown ‒ permanent disposal facility. According to the latest information, the Covra contains 16,020 cubic meters (m3) of depleted uranium and an average of 1,000 m3 is added annually.13 That is 4,577 containers with a volume of 3.5 m3. The total weight of U3O8 is then almost 49,000 tons; slightly more than 10 tons on average per container.14 Urenco pays a fixed price for the storage of depleted uranium at the Covra.

All depleted uranium must be stored in the final disposal facility; foreseen in the Netherlands in 2130. For permanent storage the depleted uranium is 'reconditioned' and repacked in the equally large Konrad Type II container.15 Covra expects that in 2130 9060 Konrad Type II containers with depleted uranium will go to the final storage.16 That is over 90,000 tons of depleted uranium, half of which is already present at the Covra.

5.4.2 Storage of depleted uranium in Great Britain

The Urenco plant in Capenhurst stores the depleted uranium in the form of UF6 on its own site and has a permit for the construction of a hall for the storage of U3O8 for the next 100 years.17 From Capenhurst about 20,000 tons18 of depleted uranium were exported to Russia in the period between 1995 and 2009 "to limit the quantities of tail stocks stored at Capenhurst"19 and again from 2016 on exports large quantities of depleted uranium to Russia.20 Exactly how much depleted UF6 is stored on the Capenhurst site is unknown. An estimate is 90,000 tonnes, part of which is also from the gas diffusion enrichment plant.21 The local Close Capenhurst Coalition appealed to the Freedom of Information Act in 2016 and asked the regulator (ONR) about such details. The answer was amazing: figuring out that information and whitening business-sensitive information would cost between £600 and £900.22 To be paid by the Coalition.

5.4.3 Storage of DU in Germany

Gronau has a permit for the storage of a total of 36,000 tonnes of UF6 (both natural, depleted and enriched) in the open air on site and sends the depleted UF6, just like Almelo, to Pierrelatte for deconversion. Since 2014 there is on the Gronau site a special storage hall (capacity 58,000 tonnes) in which the U3O8 coming back from France can be stored until there is a final disposal possibility.23 The remarkable fact is that the storage facility is still not being used and, according to the ministry, is not going to be used before 2024.24 Where all UF6 and U3O8 from Gronau is, is unclear: a large part has been 'exchanged' in a slurred deal with Capenhurst. In the period 1995‒2009, a total of 27,300 tonnes of depleted UF6 were dumped in Russia25 and another 6,000 tonnes were transported to Russia in 2019 alone. Urenco Germany announces that transports to the deconversion facility in Capenhurst will not take place until the U3O8 storage hall in Gronau has been put into use26 which may take a while.

5.5 Dumping DU in Russia

In October 2019, questions in German parliament27 revealed that Urenco was again exporting depleted uranium to Russia. Officially for re-enrichment, but due to the enormous Russian stocks of depleted UF6, there are serious doubts as to whether re-enrichment actually takes place. However, even if the depleted uranium is re-enriched ‒ according to the contract to natural level, that is 0.7% ‒ only a small part (10‒20%, depending on the amount of U-235 that was still present) comes back to Urenco , the rest (80‒90%) of the waste remains in Russia. For Urenco, as we concluded earlier, a handy and inexpensive way to get rid of huge amounts of radioactive waste.

5.5.1 New contract

According to the contract signed in 2018, 6,000 tonnes of depleted UF6 can initially be transported to Russia in the 2019‒2020 period for re-enrichment. But according to an addition to the contract, another 6,000 tons from the three Urenco plants can be exported to Russia in the years 2019‒2022.28 At the end of 2019, 6,000 tons were transported from Gronau to Russia via the port in Amsterdam: ten transports of 600 tons each. Which would have already met the first part of the contract.

Urenco denies that depleted uranium from Almelo also goes to Russia, but since there are many transports between the different Urenco enrichment plants, under opaque permits, it is unclear, but not impossible, that depleted uranium from Almelo will eventually via Capenhurst or Gronau. end up in Russia. But even when it does not include Almelo's uranium, it is all uranium from Urenco and the Netherlands owns and is responsible for one-third of that waste, regardless of its location.
Urenco Netherlands did in fact receive a transport permit in 201929 for the transport of depleted uranium to the Russian nuclear fuel element factory PJSC "MSZ" in Elektrostal. The required export license has not yet been issued for this (as of 31 Jan. 2020). This depleted uranium should be used there for the production of fuel. It is a strange contract, because given the huge stocks of the material that Russia itself has, the price and conditions for the purchase of depleted uranium from the Almelo plant must be very advantageous for Russia.

5.5.2 100,000 tonnes to Russia earlier

It is not the first time that Urenco is transporting depleted uranium to Russia for re-enrichment: a contract was concluded with the Russian company Tenex in June 1995 to produce "uranium with the natural concentration of fissile isotopes" in the Russian enrichment plants.30

That Urenco statement was false: answers from parliamentary questions in 2008 showed that also 4.5% enriched uranium came back from Russia.31 In June 2009, Tenex announced that it would not extend the contract due to economic infeasibility.32 Economic reasons are, however, only half of the story, meanwhile the resistance in Western Europe ‒ just like in Russia ‒ had grown so much that every transport provoked more protest. In total, around 100,000 tonnes of depleted UF6 were transported to Russia during that period (1996‒2009).33

Of those 100,000 tons, more than half came from Almelo: in the period 1996‒2007 it was already 53,683 tons. In the same period, 10,282 tonnes went to Pierrelatte for conversion to U3O8.34 "According to Urenco, economic reasons determine which option is preferred by Urenco," according to Dutch minister in November 2007.35 Well, that is obvious: without the export of huge amounts to Russia, the amount of depleted uranium stored at the Covra would have been already more than twice as much as currently stored. Instead of stored in the special facilities VOG III and IV, it now lies in Siberia and the Urals. The Council of State agreed with Urenco and found that it was a raw material and not radioactive waste.36

Following the resumption of transports to Russia in 2019, a number of parliamentary debates have taken place in the Dutch parliament. In Germany it is really a "hot topic" but not in Great Britain.

With these transports to Russia, the Dutch government is happy to hide behind the argument that international organizations determine whether this is permitted and that the Netherlands only deals with transport safety. The supervisor appointed by the Almelo Convention, the Joint Committee, would also not be responsible and therefore could not prohibit it. But in the Treaty of Almelo the duties of that committee are described fairly extensively in Article II, paragraph 5, and one of them (d iii) is: "the export outside the territories of the Contracting Parties of equipment or materials developed, produced or processed under the collaboration described in Article I of this Agreement". This certainly includes the export of depleted uranium to Russia. And as a member of that Commission, the Netherlands (like Great Britain and Germany) has a veto over the entire doings of Urenco, because decisions are taken unanimously.

5.5.3 Protest against dumping nuclear waste

From the moment it was announced in October (2019) that depleted UF6 was being transported from Gronau to Siberia, the protest was huge. Especially in Germany, but also in Russia and even in the Netherlands. During the last transport in 2019, which departed from Gronau on December 9, there were demonstrations in 10 places along the route in Germany and also in the Netherlands in Hengelo and Amsterdam,37 while in the municipal councils of Enschede, Amsterdam and Venlo critical questions were asked. From the port of Amsterdam the radioactive waste goes by ship to St. Petersburg in Russia and then by train to Novouralsk. During transport in December, demonstrations were also held in various places along the route in Russia. A petition against the import of radioactive waste signed by 70,000 Russians38 was offered to the German Environment Ministry on January 23, 2020.39

According to environmental groups, this is for Urenco a cheap way to get rid of its waste or it is at least a convenient way to move large quantities of depleted uranium and to transfer the responsibility for storage somewhere else. And the 'management' of waste streams is clearly the motive for Urenco UK, the contract is used "to limit the quantities or tail stocks stored at Capenhurst".40 This practice has nothing to do with noble matters such as re-enrichment or recycling, but is simple meant to export (or move) radioactive waste. And that is just a matter of money and not wanting to take responsibility for the radioactive waste.

5.6 Final storage

No matter what happens to the depleted uranium and wherever it is stored, eventually there will come a time when the large quantities must be permanently stored in a final storage facility. However, a facility for long-term (permanent) storage of depleted uranium does not exist anywhere. In the Netherlands a final storage facility is not expected until 2120, in Germany and Great Britain somewhere in the middle of this century; Russia is developing plans for final storage, but the conversion from UF6 to U3O8 is expected to last until 2080.41 Such final storage offers unprecedented challenges, also for depleted uranium, and not just because of the huge volume. Depleted uranium has the unusual property of becoming more dangerous over time: after 50,000 years the radioactivity starts to increase, it reaches its maximum activity after about two million years and remains at that level for a billion years.42 This radioactive waste alone is therefore a major challenge for the future.


1 Rosatom, via Bellona, 11-2019 «Росатом» воросовововововов опасных материалов (
vvoza-v-rossiyu-opasnyh-materialov /


3 "Vragen en antwoorden over verarmd uranium" ("Questions and answers about depleted uranium"), Laka Foundation:

4 "Russia Is Arming Its Tanks with a Controversial New" Bullet ",
December 24, 2018;

5 "Rampbestrijdingsplan voor URENCO Nederland B.V" ("Disaster relief plan for URENCO Nederland B.V"), Veiligheidsregio Twente.

6 "Cost of nuclear facility near Ellesmere Port spirals to almost £ 1bn," 25 May 2019, ellesmere-16328444

7 "Tails Management Facility", website Urenco, visited 18 Feb 2020:

8 "Completing the TMF", Nuclear Engineering International, 23 October 2019;

9 "Hintergrundinfos zur Uranmülllagerung in Gronau" ("Background information Uraniumstorage at Gronau"), SOFA Münster


11 Jaarrapport 2004 ("Annual report 2004"), Covra, 2005 p13

12 "Management of depleted uranium", OECD / NEA, 2001

13 Jaarrapport 2018 ("Annual Report 2018"), Covra, 2019 p94

14 Email exchange with Covra, 5 February 2020

15 Telephone conversation Covra, 27 February 2020

16 "Opera Safety Case", Covra, December 20, 2017 p34: pdf

17 "Completing the TMF", Nuclear Engineering International, 23 October 2019;

18 Calculation by Laka Foundation, a total of more than 100,000 tonnes, Germany 27,000, the Netherlands 54,000 tonnes

19 "Urenco (Capenhurst) Ltd's strategy for its nuclear licensed site," HM Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, November 2004, p13

20 WDR Westpol report, 10 November 2019:


22 "Depleted Uranium Hexafluoride at Capenhurst", Office for Nuclear Regulation, 18 August 2016:

23 Atommüllreport,

24 Bundesumweltminiteries (Ministry of Environment"), September 2019, via:

25 "Hintergrundinfos zur Uranmülllagerung in Gronau" ("Background information Uraniumstorage at Gronau"),, SOFA Münster

26 Deutscher Bundestag ‒ 19. Wahl period ‒ 117. Sitzung; answer to question 24 from Die Linke:

27 idem, page 64

28 idem

29 ANVS-2019/4681:

30 Urenco general announcement 64, 16 June 1995:

31 Tweede Kamer der Staten Generaal, Vergaderjaar 2007-2008 (House of Representatives of the States General, Meeting year 2007-2008), 1107: Questions from Poppe (SP) December 11, 2007

32 "Rosatom says uranium tail contracts, will not be renewed", Bellona 31 May 2009: -says-uranium-tail-contracts-will-not-be-renewed-citing-economic-infeasibility

33 -sent-to-russia-are-repatriated

34 Minister Cramer (VROM) replies to Poppe (SP) questions, 23 January 2008:

35 Minister Cramer (VROM) replies to questions Poppe (SP), 27 November 2007:





40 "Urenco (Capenhurst) Ltd's strategy for its nuclear licensed site," HM Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, November 2004, p13

41 "Rosatom issues a public response to Bellona's concern", Bellona, ​​November 13, 2019;



Uranium enrichment is one of the ways to the atomic bomb. It is not for nothing that the non-proliferation policy is aimed at having as few countries as possible possess enrichment technology. Therefor the International Atomic Energy Agency has set up a "fuel bank", where countries can get their enriched uranium so that future enrichment can be limited to a few countries. And so it becomes increasingly clear that nuclear energy is a technology that has military aspects. And uranium enrichment too.

6.1 Tritium and American nuclear weapons

In May 2017, it is announced that Urenco has concluded a contract for the supply of low enriched uranium (LEU) to the American TVA. TVA is the owner of nuclear power plants that are commissioned by the US Department of Defense to produce ‒ with specially developed fuel rods ‒ tritium for the US nuclear weapons program. Although uncertainty remains as to whether Urenco enriched uranium is actually used in those nuclear power stations, the fact is that Urenco has agreed to supply LEU even if it is used to produce tritium for nuclear weapons. In a 2014 report from the US GAO "Interagency Review Needed to Update U.S. Position on Enriched Uranium That Can Be Used for Tritium Production", it is stated that the Urenco Joint Commission agreed to deliver enriched uranium, while the possible production of tritium in those reactors was known.1

Radioactive tritium arises from nuclear fission and has a half-life of approximately 12 years. The American nuclear weapons program is in need of tritium because the tritium in the nuclear weapons must be regularly replaced. The problem for the USA at the moment is that it (since 2013 and for the first time since WWII) no longer has its own uranium enrichment facility and is therefore forced to purchase enriched uranium from foreign producers.

The US does assess tritium production in civilian reactors as military production and therefore the US-policy for the production of tritium is based on "Unobligated LEU". This means that uranium used for tritium production cannot be covered by treaties that limit its use to peaceful use. That has been the policy of the American government for decades, precisely to separate the peaceful and military use as clearly as possible. That is the problem for the US right now: America no longer has its own uranium enrichment capacity, and depends on the commercial market for LEU. And commercial LEU from outside the US ‒ and also LEU enriched at the Urenco plant in the US itself ‒ always falls under agreements with obligations, such as those in the Washington Treaty. For the US government it is crystal clear: the production of tritium for nuclear weapons in civil nuclear power plants is military.

According to the American General Accounting Office, Urenco and the owner-states (the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Germany) see that very differently. They think that the low enriched uranium is mainly used for the production of electricity and that the tritium is only a "by-product". Literally: "According to URENCO's legal memorandum, it was further discussed that URENCO LES's LEU will be used by TVA principally to produce electricity and that, if used in TVA's tritium producing reactor, the resulting tritium produced in that reactor is a by-product material and not a special nuclear material."

That is highly debatable when it comes to contractually mandatory delivery with specially developed fuel rods.

In the meantime, it seems that the US government has been able to push back the need to use uranium enriched by Urenco considerably, because a stock of enriched uranium has been found somewhere. But the fact remains that the Urenco countries did not mind cooperating with the American nuclear weapons program.
Another possibility for the US to no longer be dependent on "obligated" uranium is to set up its own enrichment industry (which has once again been initiated) or to buy Urenco in its entirety (see Chapter 3.5: Privatization). And that is now being thought out loud.2

6.2 HALEU and military applications

From the foregoing it seems clear that Urenco is not so keen on the widely professed separation between civilian and military use of nuclear energy.

In February 2019, Urenco announces that it will enrich uranium in its American enrichment plant to 19.75%. That is the maximum enrichment rate to fall into the low-enriched uranium category. The Dutch site in Almelo has a permit to enrich uranium up to 6%. Nuclear power stations use uranium with a percentage of approximately 3.5‒5% fissile uranium-235. According to Urenco3, the higher enrichment rate of 19.75% is necessary for use in research reactors, but also for the development of new reactor types and for the production of medical isotopes. Because this is only half the story, Urenco's intention raises a lot of eyebrows.
The other half of the story is military: according to members of the Science, Space and Technology subcommittees of the US congress, the HALEU (High Assay Low Enriched Uranium) program is "a program that will ultimately be greater benefit to defense applications".4

And one wonders why in October 2019 the Department of Energy and not the Department of Defense made $115 million available to the Centrus company to set up a test plant to produce HALEU. Because Centrus is owned and operated by a US entity and will use enrichment centrifuge technology developed in the US, the Department of Energy emphasizes that it is the only company that can enrich uranium for use in the US military sector. As explained above, US policy prohibits the military use of uranium that falls under international non-proliferation treaties: "obligated uranium". The policy is that for military applications only uranium is used that is enriched in American factories with American technology, and therefore not covered by international treaties: "unobligated uranium".

But Urenco also wants to get involved in the production of HALEU and has no objection whatsoever to the military use of uranium enriched by them. So it appears again. That is because the new civilian reactor types that would require the HALEU are certainly not available in the "time-frame" for HALEU production in the Centrus program; the only (civil) advanced reactor type that fits into that timetable, the NuScale design, does not need HALEU!5

The US Department of Defense does need HALEU because it wants nuclear mini-reactors for remote military bases and for example reactors in military submarines and aircraft carriers. Up to 19.75% (20% popularly) enriched uranium falls under the category of low enriched uranium, above 20% it is called highly enriched and from about 85% it is called "weapons-grade". The latter is somewhat misleading, because even lower enriched uranium ‒ in theory even 20% or less ‒ can be used for a nuclear weapons, you only need more of it.

A higher enrichment rate is therefore controversial: the danger of further enrichment up to a percentage that is usable in nuclear weapons is high. The number of SWU is very large for the first 4‒5 percent enrichment, but is then virtually nil for higher enrichment. In other words, it is fairly effortless and quickly realizable to get from 20% to 80% enriched uranium. (See image "Uranium Enrichment and Uses")

The Urenco enrichment plant in Almelo may enrich uranium to 10% U-235, but must request permission from the nuclear regulator if the enrichment rate exceeds 6%. By way of comparison, according to the (now canceled) nuclear agreement,6 Iran can enrich uranium to only 3.67% and must 'dilute' HALEU stocks to that percentage.

Unlike the American congress, the Netherlands believes that the military application of HALEU is not an obstacle on the basis of the Treaty of Almelo (jointly) responsible for Urenco. Physics Today: "The Urenco partner states have said their 1995 agreement with the US does not prohibit the company from providing HALEU for military reactors or LEU for tritium production".

It remains remarkable that Urenco thinks it is fine to be part of the American nuclear weapons program, while the US itself really does wants to uphold the separation between 'civil' and 'military' use of nuclear technology and materials. And even more the Dutch government agrees with Urenco's military ambitions, because otherwise the Netherlands would have used its veto in the Joint Committee. Or is this being pre-sorted by the respective authorities for the suggested upcoming sale of Urenco to the US, so that this nuclear weapon state will be able to use enriched uranium for military purposes without any problems?

Perpetual secrecy

Following the decision of the Joint Committee, and the position of the Dutch cabinet represented thereon, on the supply of tritium, the Laka Foundation tried to disclose documents from the Joint Committee. However, the Court of Amsterdam judges that the international Treaty of Almelo, which regulates secrecy, is more important than any national legislation.1 Where secret documents are normally evaluated after a few years as to whether secrecy is still useful, such as minutes of the Council of Ministers on Srebrenica, it follows from the judgment of the court that all documents from the Netherlands concerning the supervision of Urenco since the establishment of the Treaty of Almelo in 1970 will remain secret into eternity, with no prospect of public access.

1 Laka Foundation, May 3, 2019: gemengde-commissie-mag-alles-over-urenco-geheim-houden-10628

6.3 Nuclear energy necessity for nuclear weapons program

The separation between military and civilian use of nuclear energy has always been artificial. For example, it is quite possible to make nuclear weapons from plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel7 and uranium enrichment has undeniable military potential.

In recent years, something else has become clear: the official nuclear weapon states (US, UK, Russia, France and China ‒ together accounting for more than 60% of the number of nuclear power reactors, 255 out of 415) have a major interest in maintaining the civil nuclear program. And there is less and less disguised talk about it.

Without a "robust" civilian nuclear industry and associated nuclear infrastructure, nuclear weapons programs would not be sustainable due to high costs, risks and the need for trained personnel:

  • In all nuclear-weapon states, the military apparatus uses the civilian nuclear industry through hidden subsidies for human resources, research funds and investment in dual-use nuclear infrastructure.
  • The modernization of nuclear arsenals in Nuclear Weapon States encourages the development of new small modular reactors (Small Modular Reactors)
  • Although reportedly intended for civilian use, small reactors are mainly used for military purposes, in particular for the propulsion of nuclear submarines, which have become the most important part of the nuclear weapons doctrines of the major nuclear powers.
  • If submarine nuclear propulsion units can be used with HALEU (enrichment level of 5‒20%) instead of HEU (enrichment level of more than 20%), the civilian nuclear industry can produce relatively inexpensive and uncomplicated nuclear fuel for nuclear submarines.


Urenco has been developing a mini-reactor since 2008: the U-battery, with the U from Urenco. The project was started in collaboration with the Technical University in Delft (NL) and the Dalton Nuclear Institute of the University of Manchester (UK). Urenco has entered into a partnership with a number of companies in the U-Battery consortium.1

The U-battery uses so-called Triso fuel, which consists of higher-enriched low-enriched uranium (or HALEU). It is therefore remarkable that uranium enricher Urenco is designing a reactor for which enriched uranium is necessary that it cannot itself enrich. But that one day will undoubtedly be the main reason for the call to be allowed to enrich higher. In this way you create foolish facts that you can put pressure on politicians with.

Mini reactors (SMRs: Small Modular Reactors) are the new hope of the nuclear industry. According to the U-Battery2 prospectus there is a lot of interest in it; especially in Canada, where it would be used to supply power to remote areas where it is not profitable to draw power cables. Power in remote areas is the most important selling point, but research shows that they are mainly developed to extract oil, tar sands and gas from hard-to-reach locations. The Akademik Lomonosov, the Russian floating nuclear reactor, is intended, for example, to be able to explore and exploit fossil fuels at the North Pole. The U-Battery that Urenco is developing in collaboration with Canada could allow the extraction of tar sands in inhospitable areas. And there are more examples. It therefore appears that the mini-nuclear reactors currently being developed are only going to aggravate the climate crisis.3




1 General Accounting Office, GAO-15-123, October 2014:

2 "Controversy continues to swirl around uranium enrichment contract," Physics Today, January 1, 2020 p22;

3 "Urenco USA Inc. announces next-step HALEU activities ", 5 February 2019;

4 "Controversy continues to swirl around uranium enrichment contract," Physics Today, January 1, 2020 p22;

5 Same as Physics Today

6 "What's in the Iran nuclear deal?" CNN, 2 April 2015;

7 "Reactor-grade plutonium and nuclear weapons: ending the debate," Gregory S. Jones. In: The Nonproliferation Review, Volume 26, 2019, Issue 1-2 p61;

8 See: "Interdependencies between civil and military nuclear infrastructures": World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018;


The Urenco plant at Almelo has been ‒ certainly for the first 15 years ‒ at the center of attention: it seemed as if one scandal had not yet finished before the next appeared. In Germany that was much less during that period, but the discussion has been flaring up considerably in the past 10 years. In Great Britain it is relatively quiet around Urenco Capenhurst, but that was also different in the past. The fact that there are fewer scandals does not mean that everything is now much better.

7.1 Theft of enrichment technology

Because enrichment technology is a proliferation-sensitive technology that gives countries the opportunity to develop nuclear weapons, the policy is aimed at preventing the spread of that technology. In the past this has not been possible and with digitization it has become a lot more difficult ‒ a cubic meter of documents fits on a simple USB stick.

7.1.1 Abdul Qadeer Khan1

After the broadcast on German channel ZDF on 29 March 1979, of a documentary about Dutch enrichment technology that had ended up in Pakistan through espionage, Dutch politics also became interested and parliamentary questions were asked. On May 3, the Minister of Economic Affairs downplayed the affair: "It is not correct that knowledge about enrichment technology was obtained directly from Urenco Nederland by Pakistan."

Through a broadcast by Walter Cronkite on the American news channel CBS, the spy also got a name: Abdul Qadeer Khan.2 In February 1980, the Dutch government had to come back to previous statements, it is "likely that Pakistan through Khan is in possession of sensitive knowledge in the field of enrichment technology" and that Pakistan has "gained considerable time" in setting up a trial enrichment plant.

It gradually became clear to everyone that A.Q. Khan stole secret blueprints of modern ultra-centrifuges at the Urenco plant in Almelo and took them to Pakistan. Although the Netherlands should have been aware of the theft for years, the government remained in the denial phase for a long time. Concealing espionage from partners

It was not until 16 June 1979 that the Netherlands first officially notified Britain and West Germany of Khan and the theft of classified information. That happened in the secret Joint Committee only after almost every newspaper reported about the theft. The Urenco partners were certainly not happy with the late notification. For example, Norman Lamont, UK undersecretary of state for energy, could not hide his irritation. After a question from Labor Member Tam Dalyell, during a debate in the UK Parliament on 18 December 1979, he replied: "The Hon. Member asked, quite rightly, "Why was the United Kingdom not informed?" It is a question that we have been asking the Netherlands authorities. To date, we have received no satisfactory explanation."3

According to Khan's' colleague and whistleblower Dutchman Frits Veerman, he ‒ Veerman ‒ had informed colleagues (in personal conversations and sometimes covertly) from 1974 onwards of his suspicions after seeing secret blueprints of centrifuges at Khan's home.4 But if that was not enough, everything should have been clear in December 1975 when Khan did not return to the Netherlands from his vacation in Pakistan.

From the very beginning of the Urenco cooperation, the prevention of proliferation was mentioned as one of the main arguments and there are "rules [are] designed to ensure that access to sensitive information is tightly controlled".5 But even in the regular meetings of Urenco's Joint Commission, the Netherlands apparently did not mention that secrets had been leaked to Pakistan. It was not until 16 June 1979 that Britain and West Germany were informed of this important non-proliferation breach by a Dutch report in the Joint Committee.

According to the British state secretary in the December 1979 debate, people from "fourth countries" should be able to access confidential information "only with the express agreement of the joint committee." And the British minister left no doubt that such permission was not requested by the Netherlands. "No such clearance was sought in the case of Dr. Khan, nor was his departure to Pakistan notified to the joint committee in 1975." And the minister went on to state that "Nor, as required by the Treaty of Almelo, was the apparent breach of security reported to the joint committee until long after it occurred."

That even the Joint Committee was not informed does makes clear the intention of the Netherlands. The government wanted to keep the whole affair secret at all costs and not only to the general public, but also to the governments of the partner countries. Because everything that is discussed in the Joint Commission is secret and remains secret anyway; the parliament has no possibility to steer the policy and has no control over it. A serious democratic deficit that has not been corrected up to now.6

The question is to what extent the concealment of the Khan affair for the Urenco partners has made it possible that British and West German companies could continue to supply Pakistan. For example, some 20 high-frequency inverters were ordered in December 1977 by Pakistan from the British company Emerson Industrial Control and were shipped in August 1978. The inverters have to control the high-speed rotations of the centrifuges.

Employees of Emerson assumed the inverters would be used for uranium enrichment, but thought that "[T]he Pakistani would never know how to operate such sophisticated equipment, and that the inverters would all sit in their packing cases until they rusted away." That turned out not to be the case. Unrest arose over a larger follow-up order and, probably after a tip from an employee of the company, Labour asked for on inquiry in British parliament; eventually an investigation followed, exports to Pakistan were frozen and export conditions were tightened.7

The refusal of the Netherlands to inform the Urenco partners as soon as possible about Khan's nuclear espionage was the second time the Netherlands had kept important matters secret from its partners: previously in 1969, during the negotiations for the establishment of Urenco, the Netherlands had kept secret from German and British partners that a number of centrifuges had imploded.8

Many years later, in 2005, in a broadcast of the Dutch radio program Argos, Ruud Lubbers, in 1975 Minister of Economic Affairs, revealed that the Netherlands had "let go" Khan twice after pressure from the American intelligence agency CIA.9 The same CIA, which later described Khan as "at least as dangerous as Osama bin Laden".10 The Khan network

After graduating in metal science from Delft university, Khan became an employee of the Dutch company FDO in 1972. FDO, based in Amsterdam, did research for Urenco on certain parts of centrifuge technology. Khan also worked in Almelo, where he copied the then very advanced Dutch M4 centrifuge-technology.

In 1975, Khan did not return to the Netherlands from a holiday in Pakistan. After he was initially sentenced in absentia to four years in prison by the Amsterdam District Court in 1983, he was acquitted on appeal in March 1985 for a formal error: it was unclear whether he had received the summons.

In January 2009, a Dutch study friend of Khan, Henk Slebos, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the illegal export of proliferation-sensitive technology to Pakistan.11 Slebos is just one of the many "associates" of Khan: in Deception, a list of "Principle Characters" in the Khan network has been included as an attachment, including a list of 11 European contacts, the majority of whom have been convicted of smuggling.12 From the beginning of this century it became increasingly clear that Khan was the hub in a network that sold nuclear enrichment technology to other countries. The centrifuges found in Iran and Libya where based on the 4M copied by Khan and therefore have a "Dutch fingerprint."

Khan, meanwhile, became a national hero in Pakistan; the "Father of the Atomic Bomb". In 2004 he admitted selling nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran between 1986 and 1993. In a revealing article by proliferation experts Albright and Hinderstein13 they mention that Khan offered his 'assistance' to Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Al Qaida in addition to the three countries mentioned above. Furthermore, they argue, the fact that Khan visited 18 countries between 1997 and 2003 has fueled further speculation about his potential clientele.

In addition to the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan and the nuclear weapons program of North Korea, Iran's nuclear program, which in recent years has regularly led to tensions and armed actions, can also be traced back to Urenco Almelo. It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of the lax attitude of both Urenco and the successive Dutch governments in enabling Khan to take off with the crown jewels. And the consequences of the technology stolen from Urenco in Almelo in the early 1970s have largely determined the global proliferation agenda of recent decades. Up to the present day.

7.1.2 Urenco technology in Iraq

Khan is not the only one who stole Urenco technology, others did so too, but undoubtedly with less impact. Between 1985 and 1990, secret blueprints with specifications of the then most modern ultracentrifuge, the TC11, were stolen by former employees of the company MAN. The company was at that time the main shareholder of the German Urenco partner Uranit.14 The highly secret blueprints were copied at Uranit's office by Stemmler and Schaab and sold to Iraq.15 The International Atomic Energy Agency discovered the advanced carbon-fiber reinforced TC11 ultracentrifuges in Iraq, after a top Iraqi official with some sensitive documents had fled to Jordan.16

7.2 Enriched uranium to Brazil17

In June 1975 Urenco partner West Germany signed a huge contract with Brazil for the supply of a complete nuclear energy cycle consisting of enrichment, nuclear power stations and reprocessing plants. Brazil had not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (which is intended to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons) and was also a military dictatorship. At the same time, Germany sold nuclear technology to arch-enemy Argentina. The regime in Brazil was not secretive about its nuclear intentions: it had a nuclear weapons program, but that nuclear weapons would be developed for "peaceful purposes."

In March 1976, the Netherlands agreed in the Urenco Joint Commission to supply enriched uranium to Brazil. This contract made it necessary to considerably expand the enrichment capacity of the plant in Almelo. Brazil is Urenco's first major export customer. The discussion within the Social Democrats led Cabinet Den Uyl ‒ where the smallest coalition partner PPR is threatening with a cabinet crisis ‒ focuses on Brazil's nuclear safeguards.

But the German and British partners are not in favor of a revision of the already-agreed safeguards by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Brazil also refuses to cooperate on strict security conditions which are perceived discriminatory. What follows are a few years of ambiguity, blackmail and mystery. For example, both West Germany and the United Kingdom threaten not to renew the Treaty of Almelo in 1981 (a possibility laid down in the Treaty) and West Germany makes it clear that if a (positive) decision about expansion of the Almelo plant is not made rapidly, the Germans are forced to build an enrichment factory on their own territory. At the end of 1977 the new Christian Democrats-Liberals cabinet agreed to the expansion of the Urenco plant in Almelo and thus to the supply of enriched uranium to Brazil.

The largest anti-nuclear energy demonstration in Dutch history takes place in March 1978. With the central slogan "No expansion of UCN" (the name under which Urenco Almelo is known in that period) around 45,000 to 50,000 people demonstrate in Almelo, especially against the supply of enriched uranium to the military dictatorship of Brazil. Out of disappointment that the massive opposition did not lead to concrete results, the first direct actions against Urenco took place later that year by BAN: Break the Nuclear Chain Netherlands.

A few months later, at the end of June 1978, the Dutch Parliament approved the supply of enriched uranium to Brazil. Urenco Almelo had already started work on expansion in May. In December 1978, the government also agreed to the construction of the Urenco plant in Gronau, Germany.

In April 1981 it was announced that not Almelo but Capenhurst would enrich the uranium for Brazil staring in the beginning of 1982.18 But due to financial problems and the great delay in the Brazilian nuclear program the contract was not nearly as large as originally discussed.19 In 1985 the military dictatorship came to an end but Brazil did not sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty until September 1998. A new enrichment contract was being discussed at the end of the 1980s and Brazil is still one of the Urenco customers to this day.

Germany ultimately sold a nuclear reactor, but not an enrichment plant or a reprocessing plant.

7.3 Enrichment of uranium from occupied Namibia

At the start of commercial enrichment in the factories in Almelo and Capenhurst (Autumn 1977) it became clear that in Capenhurst and Almelo uranium from Namibia is being enriched. With this, Urenco violates Decree Nr. 1 of the Namibia Council of the United Nations. That decree prohibits the exploitation, trade, transport, processing and use of raw materials from this country which is occupied by South Africa.

The Dutch involvement in uranium trading from Namibia is of an indirect nature; The Netherlands itself does not purchase uranium from Namibia or South Africa. Dutch involvement is crucial, however, because the Netherlands is an equal partner in Urenco and the enrichment of Namibian uranium is taking place at the enrichment plants in Capenhurst and Almelo. The contractual involvement of Urenco Almelo raises an interesting point. While the British and West Germans do not recognize the legal authority of the UN Council for Namibia, the Dutch government does. It recognizes both the 1971 ruling of the International Court of Justice that the South African government in Namibia is illegal and the legal basis of Decree No. 1 of 1974 by the UN Council for Namibia.20

7.3.1 Namibian uranium and the UN process21

In 1978, the Dutch Anti-Apartheid movement brought the matter to the attention and reproached the Dutch government for taking no action whatsoever to give practical substance to the position it adopted; not via transport restrictions, not via (the Joint Committee of) Urenco and not via Euratom (which also has the right to determine the "geographical origin" of the goods to be supplied).

At a UN hearing on the case, the Netherlands stated that it did not see it as its task to "implement" the decree. The Netherlands defended itself with the statement that it cannot know where the uranium originated from: Urenco is not the owner of the uranium and only enriches it. The UN then calls this "healing", because of course it is possible to make demands on customers about the origin of uranium. In May 1985, the UN announced a trial against Urenco and the Dutch state, which it is hoped can still start "before the end of the year".

On 14 July 1987, the summons of the UN Council for Namibia is finally published and on September 1 that year, during the first session, the trial is immediately adjourned to December 1 to give the defendants time to prepare their defense. On December 1 it is subsequently further adjourned to 3 May 1988. The essence of the (written) defense of the Dutch State is that it cannot be demonstrated that the uranium at Urenco Almelo originates from Namibia and that therefore the Netherlands cannot be accused of unlawful processing raw materials from occupied Namibia. At the hearing on 6 June 1989, the Namibia Council's reply is that the Dutch State can derive from agreements where the uranium comes from and that a bank that receives stolen money cannot defend itself with the argument that the money doesn't show it has been stolen.

But that is it: at the beginning of 1990, South Africa withdrew from Namibia, which became independent on 21 March 1990. The trial is stopped without judgment.

7.3.2 Namibian uranium in Great Britain

The contract for the supply of Namibian uranium to Great Britain is concluded with UKAEA22 in 1968 (i.e. before the establishment of Urenco) and is taken over by this Urenco partner after the establishment of BNFL23 in 1971. Most of the uranium from the Namibian Rössing mine goes to Great Britain, but also to a number of other Urenco customers.

The Labor Party promised to cancel the 1968 contract, but when the party after winning the 1974 general elections came back to that promise, protest increased sharply.24 Between 1977 and 1985 half of the uranium for the British civilian nuclear program came from the Rössing mine in Namibia. In addition, all the uranium for the British military program came from Namibia and South Africa.25 A campaign was being set up by Anti-Apartheid organizations, students, environmental movements together with trade unions to stop the import of uranium from Namibia. This collaboration CANUC (the Campaign Against the Namibian Uranium Contracts) ensured a constant flow of information and the campaign focused to a large extent on the processing of the uranium in Capenhurst.

In addition to the boycotts of workers on ships carrying uranium from Namibia in the port of Liverpool, one of the highlights of the protest is the National Day of Action on 14 March 1981, when demonstrations are taking place on 30 locations, including Capenhurst.26

7.4 And today's scandals?

It seems as if scandals are something of "the past"; as if there are no more scandalous things happening around Urenco. But scandals do not occur automatically. If not many people find something that is outrageous, there will be no public scandal. And that has been the case in the Netherlands (and the UK) for a long time.

In Germany it is different. This is where scandal after scandal concerning Urenco Gronau has arisen in the past couple of years. There were numerous topics about which the media reported critically, triggering discussion in parliament; in short, scandals. About the involvement in the American nuclear weapons program, the supply of enriched uranium for the fuel for the 'crack reactors' in Tihange and Doel and even about the parliamentary debate on the Ausstieg van Lingen and Gronau where strange things happened with official documents and speakers.27 But especially the scandal of dumping depleted uranium in Russia.

What became a scandal nowhere is the contract for the supply of enriched uranium to the United Arab Emirates.28 And that is strange. A dictatorship, a country where homosexuality is punishable, where a non-Jewish declaration is requested, in a region where nuclear technology and nuclear ambitions raise a lot of eyebrows.


1 Unless otherwise indicated, this part is based on:

2 'Pakistan kreeg kerntechnologie uit Nederland'('Pakistan got nuclear technology from the Netherlands'); Volkskrant (NL), June 13, 1979)

3 Quotes from the debate on December 18, 1979 in the UK Parliament from:

4 Veerman writes extensively about his suspicions in the book Atoom spionage' ('Atom Espionage'), Centerboek, 1988 written by him and Jacques Ros

5 British Secretary of State for Energy Lamont in the debate in the British parliament, 18 December 1979

6 See: Perpetual secrecy, box chapter 6)

7 "Deception. Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons", Adrian Levy & Catherine Scott-Clark, 2007; page 54

8 J. Kistemaker: "The history of the Dutch Ultracentrifuge Project. How a new industry was born", FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics, 1991

9 Argos, VPRO, broadcast August 19, 2005:]

10 George Tenet director of CIA in "CIA Says Pakistanis Gift Iran Nuclear Aid", New York Times, November 24, 2004

11 More about Slebos in "Project Butter factory", Frank Slijper, 2007:

12 Deception, pp. 454-458

13 "Unraveling the A.Q. Khan and Future Proliferation Networks", David Albright and Corey Hinderstein, The Washington Quarterly, Spring 2005

14 "A.Q.Khan, Urenco and the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology", commissioned by Greenpeace, 2004 p26

15 "Report says centrifuge know-how may have been transferred to Iraq," Nuclear Fuel, October 29, 1990 p10

16 "Iraq bought ‒ and still has ‒ design for advanced Urenco gas centrifuge", Nucleonics Week Extra, January 22, 1996

17 Unless stated otherwise, use for this part has been made of: "Uraniumverrijking in Nederland, Protest en Beleid 1969-1981" ("Uranium enrichment in the Netherlands, Protest and Policy 1969-1981"); RU Groningen, Thesis Contemporary History, P. G.M. Ettes, March 1986.­logus/publicatie/

18 "Eerst een kerncentrale, dan een kernbom" ("First a nuclear reactor, then a nuclear bomb"), Milieudefensie, October 1983 p7

19 "Brazilië wil meer uranium van Urenco", ("Brazil wants more uranium from Urenco"), Twentsche Courant, March 14, 1989

20 de Beer D. (1988) "The Netherlands and Namibia: the Political Campaign to End Dutch Involvement in the Namibian Uranium Trade." In: Cooper A.D. (eds) Allies in Apartheid. Palgrave Macmillan, London

21 Unless stated otherwise, this part uses:

22 The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority is the state organization that is responsible for both the civilian and military nuclear programs at that time

23 British Nuclear Fuels Limited, full subsidiary of UKAEA

24 "Namibia: A contract to kill. The Story of Stolen Uranium and the British Nuclear Program", CANUC, 1986

25 "Blockade Namibian Uranium, BNFL Springfields November 14th" (1986), flyer: see

26 "Forward to freedom. The history of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement 1959-1994 ":

27 "Atomausstieg mit einer Ausnahme" ("Nuclear phase out with exceptions'), die tageszeitung, March 21, 2019:!5579430/



Enrichment means increasing the concentration of a particular isotope of interest in an element. Although not limited to uranium, the term is usually used to enrich the U-235 isotope in uranium.

Natural uranium consists for the most part of the isotope U-238, while the fissile isotope U-235 makes up only 0.72% of all uranium atoms (or 0.711% of the mass). To maintain a nuclear chain reaction, the fissionable U-235 percentage must be increased to approximately 3‒5%. The process of increasing the U-235 fraction in uranium is called uranium enrichment.

Commercial enrichment technology is now almost exclusively based on gas centrifuges. In these centrifuges, a gaseous uranium compound (uranium hexafluoride ‒ UF6 ‒ which is also gaseous at relatively low temperatures) is exposed to strong centrifugal forces, separating the lighter (U-235) from the heavier isotopes (U-238). Because the enrichment obtained in a single centrifuge is not sufficient, many centrifuges are linked to each other in so-called cascades. These cascades are again used in parallel formations to achieve the desired degree of enrichment.

The labor required for enrichment is measured in SWU: Separative Work Units. 1 SWU is equivalent to 1 kg of separation labor. Capacity of an enrichment installation is stated in tonnes (1000 kg) of SWU per year (tSWU / y). Enriching from 0.7 to 4‒5% U-235 requires more SWU than from 5% to 100%.

A nuclear power plant with a capacity of 1,000 MW requires approximately 25 tonnes of 3.5% enriched uranium annually. The production of this enriched uranium from natural uranium requires around 120 tSWU. An enrichment installation with a capacity of 1,000 tSWU / y can therefore enrich the uranium annually for around eight nuclear power plants.

Uranium with a U-235 content to be increased ("feed") is loaded in centrifuges. Enrichment results in two streams: a stream with a percentage of U-235 higher than the natural 0.72% (enriched uranium or 'product') and a stream with a percentage of U-235 lower than 0.72% (depleted uranium or 'tails'). The depleted uranium represents more than 85% of the mass output of the enrichment plant, in other words: the production of 1 kilo of enriched uranium yields ‒ as a by-product or waste ‒ more than 7 kilos of depleted uranium!

Theoretically, it is possible to extract even more fissionable uranium from the depleted uranium, which on average still contains 0.2-0.3% U-235. The usefulness of this "re-enrichment" depends on a number of economic factors: the price of "fresh" natural uranium, the price of a SWU and, nowadays, an excess of enrichment capacity (overcapacity). Re-enrichment is not effective to reduce the volume of depleted uranium, but can be used (and is used) to move those volumes: e.g. from Western Europe to Siberia (see Chapter 6: Export of depleted uranium to Russia).


In the beginning all uranium enrichment took place for the production of nuclear weapons. Within the Manhattan project, enrichment was one of the two routes to the atomic bomb: the other was obtaining plutonium by reprocessing. At the time, research into uranium enrichment was mainly based on ultracentrifuge technology to separate uranium isotopes, but after a number of centrifuges had exploded, they switched to gas diffusion technology in December 1943.1

1950s: military enrichment capacity

In the 1950s, the US expanded its enrichment capacity built during the Second World War with three enormous diffusion installations with a total capacity of 17,000 tSWU / y.2 The British also built diffusion installations for their nuclear weapons programs and in 1953 opened a factory in Capenhurst with a small capacity (400 tSWU / y) .3 Also the Soviet Union started a large military uranium enrichment program. Tenex was established in 1953 for the export of enriched uranium (initially exclusively to countries within the Soviet bloc).4 China also started producing highly enriched uranium for the nuclear weapons program in two enrichment plants (Lanzhou and Heping) in the late 1950s, both through gas diffusion.5

When the various European Communities were set up in the mid-1950s, France proposed that the European Community started its own enrichment project: which would have to be within Euratom: the European Community's partnership and lobby organization for atomic energy. But the US responded to those plans with an offer that Europe "could not refuse": cheap, subsidized by the American government, uranium, enriched by the major American diffusion plants. By accepting the American offer, the discussion and implementation of enrichment technology in Western Europe was postponed considerably.6 France in 1960 started its own national enrichment industry with the construction of the (military) enrichment plant in Pierrelatte, which began to produce in 1964.7

Breaking the US monopoly

From a virtual monopoly on uranium enrichment ‒ outside the Soviet bloc ‒ in the 1950s and 1960s, the US share of the world market fell during the 1970s to less than 60% at the end of 1982.8

France was the first country to break the US monopoly and signed an agreement in March 1971 for the supply of enriched uranium with Russian Tenex.9 In 1975 already 8.8% of enriched uranium in the Euro-910 came from the Soviet Union.11 In the following 10 years, the position of the US as the dominant world supplier was quickly eroded for two reasons:12

‒ In the first place, the US was increasingly seen as an unreliable supplier of enriched uranium; because the order book was larger than the production capacity, no new orders were concluded between 1974 and 1978.

‒ Secondly, US policy to prevent even more countries from possessing nuclear weapons evolved to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, imposing more restrictions on foreign buyers of enriched uranium.

These factors increased the interest of countries to develop their own enrichment facilities.

1970s: Multinational cooperation

The Urenco company was founded by the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in the early 1970s and started building their own enrichment capacity. The first commercial delivery of enriched uranium by Urenco took place in September 1975. Although these deliveries were relatively small and came from pilot plants, Urenco did gain in importance.13 In 1977 the first commercial factories were officially put into operation: on 15 September in Capenhurst and on 25 October in Almelo,14 while in August 1985 production started at the German Gronau plant.15

Eurodif was established by France in 1973 as a joint venture with four participating partners: Belgium, Italy, Spain and Sweden (in 1975 Iran would take over Sweden's 10% share). However, unlike Urenco, the partners did not have access to the technology, only ‒ and only to a certain extent ‒ to the product.16 Eurodif opted for gas diffusion technology and in 1979 production started in Tricastin, France. Capacity quickly expanded to 10,800 tSWU / y in the mid-1980s, making Eurodif one of the world's largest producers of enriched uranium.17

Small number of producers

In 1976, only five countries had uranium enrichment facilities larger than a pilot plant. These were the five official nuclear weapon states: the US, the United Kingdom, France, Soviet Union and China. All their existing factories were initially built for military purposes. Of the five, only the US and Russia had sufficient capacity to also enrich for export.18 That changed with the arrival of Urenco and Eurodif.

Years '10: end of US position and of diffusion technology

Currently, the situation is more or less the same as 50 years ago: a small number of producers dominate the enrichment market. But important changes have taken place with regard to those producers and the technology. Instead of being a market leader, the US actually no longer has its own enrichment capacity.

In 2013, the last diffusion enrichment plant (the Paducah Gas Diffusion Plant)19 closed while the American Centrifuge Plant, which was intended to replace Paducah, suffered enormous delays and failed. The government stopped financing at the end of 2015.20

Urenco opened a new enrichment plant in the US in 2010 in Eunice,21 but it appears that the lack of an American enrichment capacity with American technology has serious consequences in some areas. There are attempts to rebuild the American enrichment industry. Last year, the Department of Energy (DoE) announced that it would make US $115 million available to the company Centrus.22

In June 2012, a year before the closure of the Paducah diffusion plant, the diffusion plant in Tricastin, France,23 closed: after 70 years the curtains fell definitively to the application of gas diffusion technology for the enrichment of uranium.24 The French state-owned nuclear company Aréva (now renamed Orano) proceeded with this closure when the capacity of the replacement centrifuge factory Georges Besse II reached 1,500 tSWU / y.25

Cost advantage of centrifuge technology

One of the main reasons for the rapid rise of centrifuge enrichment is the cost factor: and especially the high-power consumption of diffusion compared to centrifuge enrichment. The diffusion technology consumes around 2,500 kWh per SWU, while modern centrifuge plants only need around 50 kWh per SWU.26

An enrichment installation with a capacity of 1,000 tSWU / y can annually enrich the uranium for around eight nuclear power plants of 1000 Mwe to 3.5%.27

Enrichment (over) capacity, price SWU

Due to the continuing optimistic growth scenarios for nuclear energy, the enrichment market is in fact struggling with overcapacity. Due to less expansion of the planned enrichment capacity (and due to failed projects ‒ especially in the US), overcapacity has decreased somewhat in the last decade. Urenco Almelo, for example, has had a permit for 6,200 tSWU / y since 2011, but the actual production capacity is 5,200 tSWU / y. And Urenco USA may expand to 10,000 tSWU / y, but remains stuck at 4,900 for the time being. The global enrichment capacity expected in 2013 for the year 2020 was still around 80,000 tSWU / y.28

Long-term global overcapacity has consequences for the price of enrichment, which is currently historically low.

SWU production (in tonnes of SWU per year):





US (without Urenco)




Russia (Soviet Union)




France (Eurodif)




















* 1 Figures 1978 and 1998: (France adjusted, Laka 2020)
* 2 SWU-mergence: Reawakening of the Enrichment Market, presentation by Jonathan Hinze, President UxC, LLC, on NEI IUFS, October 29, 2019
* 3 In a presentation also at the NEI IUFS, Kirk Schnoebelen, President Urenco USA, the capacity of Russia is estimated at 28,000 tSWU / y

In its latest Annual Report29 Urenco writes about the low SWU price: "[C] urrent price levels would not support reinvestment in our enrichment facilities", although they foresee an increase in price. Also the Dutch government, as a shareholder of Urenco, is not at ease: "The global demand for enriched uranium and therefore the potential earning capacity for Urenco has fallen." 30

Laser enrichment

For more than 40 years, laser enrichment has been called a promising technique and the next step in isotope separation. Science News wrote in the mid-1970s that "plants producing enriched uranium by laser could be in operation by the early 1980s."

Despite much research, especially from the Nuclear Weapon States, there appears to be little progress. But the promise remained; also according to Urenco. The Dutch paper Twentsche Courant, for example, reports in 199032 that it will be decided in 1993 in which Urenco country the Urenco trial laser enrichment plant will be built. Almelo is said to be a promising contender because Urenco commissioned 'experiments in this area' at the nearby University of Twente.

The US started research into Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation (AVLIS) in the 1970s as a replacement for diffusion enrichment plants. Expectations were high: in Science magazine,33 AVLIS was described as "a clear winner". But after more than $2 billion was spent on research and development, the AVLIS development was stopped.34

In 1996, the US purchased the rights to further develop the SILEX process and to use it commercially.35 The SILEX process (Separation of Isotopes by Laser EXcitation) was developed in Australia in the 1990s. In 2006, a collaboration between SILEX and the American technology and electronics company General Electric came into existence, and a few years later the Canadian company Cameco (the largest uranium mining company in the world listed on the stock exchange) joined. Apart from technological developments, the economic outlook for new enrichment capacity remained (and remains) poor, so General Electric left the cooperation in early 2019.36

Forty years after the first commercial laser enrichment plants were planned, commercial laser enrichment still does not exist.


1 "Gas Centrifuge Theory and Development: A Review of U.S. Programs ", R. Scott Kemp in Science and Global Security, 2009 17: 1, 1-19, DOI: 10.1080 / 08929880802335816

2 "The nature of the uranium enrichment industry & Its Implications for Australia", Ed Kaptein, submission to Select Committee on Uranium Resources, Parliament for South-Australia, March 1980

3 idem Ed Kaptein, p1

4, visited 10 January 2020

5 "China's Uranium Enrichment Capacity: Rapid Expansion to Meet Commercial Needs"; Hui Zhang, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 2015 p13

6 "Enrichment clubs come on stream", Financial Times, July 19, 1979

7 "Uranium Enrichment and Nuclear Weapon Proliferation"; Krass, Boskma, Elzen, Smit; SIPRI, 1983 p28:

8 "Uranium Enrichment: Investment Options for the Long Term", United States Congress; October 1983, p15

9 De Tijd, NL, March 16, 1971

10 Euro-9 = Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, UK and Denmark

11 "Supply of the community countries with enriched uranium", Eurostat BP 1907, August 1976

12 "Uranium Enrichment: Investment Options for the Long Term", October 1983, Congress of the United States; p16 / 17

13 Nuclear Engineering International, November 1976, p52-54

14 Urenco Centec News, n4, November 1977

15 atomwirtschaft, January 1986

16 Fabrication / Uranium-Enrichment.aspx

17 /operations-800/eurodif-production-natural-uranium-enrichment.html

18 "Enrichment Supply and Technology Outside The United States", SA Levin & S. Blumkin, Union Carbide Corporation, Nuclear Division, January 1977

19 paducah-gaseous-diffusion-plant-to-do /


21 "Building and operating URENCO USA",

22 http: / /

23 "Eurodifs Uranium Enrichment Plant Ceases Production Permanently",

24 Russia soon had centrifuge technology at its disposal, but the huge diffusion plants remained in use for decades: in the 1970s / 80s, all production switched to centrifuge technology; China switched to centrifuge enrichment at the start of this century



27 Company brochure Urenco US, -we-do-business.html

28 "Uranium mining and (in) transparency: Urenco's role in the nuclear fuel chain", Peter Diehl, Dirk Bannink, May 2014:

29 Urenco Annual Report and Accounts 2018, p6

30 antwoorden-op-kamervragen-over-jaarverslag-beheer-staatsdeelnemingen-2015, answer to questions 57 and 58

31 "Laser uranium separation: A leap forward", Science News, 14 February 1976

32 "In 1993 beslissing over fabriek voor verrijking van uranium door lasers" ("In 1993 decision about the uranium laser enrichment plant"), Twentsche Courant, 28 May 1990

33 Science, vol 228 p1408, June 21, 1985

34 "US Laser project abandoned after 26 years and US $ 2 billion", WISE News Communiquee, June 18, 1999

35 "Profile of World Uranium Enrichment Programs — 2009";

36, 7 February 2019

Uranium on the rocks; nuclear power PR blunders

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Uranium mining company Cameco announced on April 21 that is suspending production at Rabbit Lake and reducing production at McArthur River / Key Lake in Canada. Cameco is also curtailing production at its two U.S. uranium mines, both in-situ leach mines ‒ Crow Butte in Nebraska and Smith Ranch-Highland in Wyoming. About 500 jobs will be lost at Rabbit Lake and 85 at the U.S. mines. Cameco now expects its total production in 2016 will be 25.7 million pounds of U3O8 (about 15% of global demand), down from its earlier forecast of 30 million pounds.1

"Unfortunately, continued depressed market conditions do not support the operating and capital costs needed to sustain production at Rabbit Lake and the US operations," Cameco CEO Tim Gitzel said. A Cameco statement said that "with today's oversupplied market and uncertainty as to how long these market conditions will persist, we need to focus our resources on our lowest cost assets and maintain a strong balance sheet."

With Cameco's recent announcement, U.S. uranium production in 2016 will likely be the lowest in more than a decade. On April 25, the Uranium Producers of America (UPA) called on the U.S. Department of Energy to stop selling from the federal excess uranium inventory until the market recovers. The Department has been selling more than five million pounds of uranium per year – more than twice what the domestic industry is likely to produce this year according to UPA – to fund the cleanup of contaminated legacy nuclear sites.2

The Department's actions "continue to have a negative impact on the uranium market and the domestic uranium industry" according to UPA, but in fact sales of around five million pounds amounts to just 3% of current annual global demand of 170 million pounds and about 10% of U.S. demand. UPA President Harry Anthony said cleaning up legacy nuclear sites is important but should be funded through the regular appropriations process. He noted that the U.S. imports almost 95% of uranium requirements for power reactors.2

Christopher Ecclestone, mining strategist at Hallgarten & Company, offers this glum assessment of the uranium market: "The long-held theory during the prolonged mining sector slump was that Uranium as an energy metal could potentially break away irrespective of the rest of the metals space. How true they were, but not in the way they intended, for just as the mining space has broken out of its swoon the Uranium price has not only been left behind but has gone into reverse. This is truly dismaying for the trigger for a uranium rebound was supposed to be the Japanese nuclear restart and yet it has had zero effect and indeed maybe has somehow (though the logic escapes us) resulted in a lower price."3

Ecclestone adds that uranium has "made fools and liars of many in recent years, including ourselves" and that "uranium bulls know how Moses felt when he was destined to wander forty years in the desert and never get to see the Promised Land." He states that uranium exploration "is for the birds" because "the market won't fund it and investors won't give credit for whatever you find".

Pro-uranium social media campaign's #epicfail

The Minerals Council of Australia launched a pro-uranium social media campaign on April 20. By that afternoon the twitter hashtag #untappedpotential was trending but ‒ as a mainstream media article noted4 ‒ contributors were overwhelmingly critical.

Nearly all contributors offered thoughts such as these:

"A week away from the #Chernobyl 30-year anniversary and Minerals Council begins propaganda trip on the #untappedpotential of uranium. Huh?!" said Twitter user Jemila Rushton.

"We need to better harness the #untappedpotential of solar power", tweeted Upulie Divisekera.

"#untappedpotential to put more communities at risk of nuclear waste dumps," Ace Collective said.

"We concur that uranium has much #untappedpotential ... for disaster, cost and time blowouts and proliferation," Anglesea After Coal said.

No doubt the Minerals Council of Australia anticipated the negative publicity and is working on the basis that all publicity is good publicity. But what the Minerals Council didn't anticipate is the uranium price has recently fallen to an 11-year low. noted in an April 20 article that the current low price hasn't been seen since May 2005.5 The current price, under US$26/lb U3O8, is well under half the price just before the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and under one-fifth of the 2007 peak of a bubble. quotes a Haywood Securities research note which points out that the spot uranium price "saw three years of back-to-back double-digit percentage losses from 2011-13, but none worse than what we've seen thus far in 2016, and at no point since Fukushima, did the average weekly spot price dip below $28 a pound." Haywood Securities notes that an over-supplied market continues to inflate global inventories. notes that five years after the Fukushima disaster only two of Japan's nuclear reactors are back online, and that in other developed markets nuclear power is also in retreat. The last reactor start-up in the U.S. was 20 years ago. The French Parliament legislated last year to reduce the country's reliance on nuclear power by one-third. Germany is phasing out nuclear power. As discussed in Nuclear Monitor #822, the European Commission recently released a report predicting that the EU's nuclear power retreat ‒ down 14% over the past decade ‒ will continue. Even if all of Japan's 43 reactors are included in the count, the number of power reactors operating worldwide is the same now as it was a decade ago.

China is a growth market but has amassed a "staggering" stockpile of yellowcake according to Macquarie Bank. India's nuclear power program is in a "deep freeze" according to the Hindustan Times (unfortunately the same cannot be said about its nuclear weapons program), while India's energy minister Piyush Goyal said on April 20 that India is not in a "tearing hurry" to expand nuclear power since there are unresolved questions about cost, safety and liability waivers sought by foreign companies.6

Nuclear power propaganda

There is no reason to believe that the nuclear industry will break out of its 20-year pattern of stagnation in the foreseeable future. Yet the latest propaganda piece from the Breakthrough Institute claims that "in 2015 the global nuclear sector quietly had its best year in decades" and "in crucial respects the nuclear renaissance has hit its stride".7 How on earth does the Breakthrough Institute reach those conclusions? By celebrating 10 reactor start-ups in 2015 and all but ignoring the eight permanent reactor shut-downs. The shut-downs are relegated to a footnote and completely ignored in the subsequent analysis.

If the latest effort from the Breakthrough Institute is disingenuous, the latest from the World Nuclear Association (WNA) is, well, it's an #epicfail. The WNA has come up with a "vision" for the construction of 1,000 power reactors by 2050.8 What distinguishes this "vision" from the WNA's constant lobbying for massive nuclear expansion? This particular PR campaign has a name: Harmony. In the WNA's words: "Renewables, nuclear and a greatly reduced level of fossil fuel work together in harmony to ensure a reliable, affordable and clean energy supply."

Lest the harmony meme die before it even gets a chance to trend on twitter, the WNA finds different ways to insert the word into sentences that are devoid of merit or meaning. Here's an example: "The harmony of purpose that characterised national nuclear programmes in the early years has to be applied now to the global enterprise."

The targets of 1,000 new reactors and nuclear power supplying 25% of global electricity might seem like ambit claims, but the WNA insists that "a great deal of consideration has gone into them and they were set after extensive consultation with leading nuclear industry figures."

How does the WNA propose to attain harmony? There's nothing new in its rhetoric (except the buzzword): a "level playing field" for all low-carbon technologies, "harmonised regulatory processes", and an "effective safety paradigm".

Former WNA executive Steve Kidd has repeatedly poked fun at vacuous PR campaigns such as the WNA's latest push. For example he said last year: "We have seen no nuclear renaissance (instead, a notable number of reactor closures in some countries, combined with strong growth in China) ... The industry is doing little more than hoping that politicians and financiers eventually see sense and back huge nuclear building programmes. On current trends, this is looking more and more unlikely. The high and rising nuclear share in climate-friendly scenarios is false hope, with little in the real outlook giving them any substance."9

After the COP-21 UN climate change conference last December, Kidd wrote: "The future is likely to repeat the experience of 2015 when 10 new reactors came into operation worldwide but 8 shut down. So as things stand, the industry is essentially running to stand still."10

Laser uranium enrichment takes a hit

The uranium conversion and enrichment markets have been just as depressed as the uranium market. One casualty is Australian company Silex Systems which is reeling from the decision of GE-Hitachi to pull out of Global Laser Enrichment (GLE), a joint venture to commercialize Silex's laser uranium enrichment technology. GLE is a joint venture between GE (51%), Hitachi (25%) and Cameco (24%).11

An 18 April 2016 statement by Silex Systems ascribes GE-Hitachi's decision to changes in business priorities and difficult market conditions. Silex's stock price fell 46% on the news of GE-Hitachi's exit and has remained depressed since.12

In 2012, GLE received a construction and operation licence for a full-scale laser enrichment facility from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. GLE was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to enter contract negotiations on the construction of a laser enrichment plant at the former gaseous enrichment site at Paducah, Kentucky to re-enrich its inventory of depleted uranium tails. Those negotiations are continuing, but the project hit financial hurdles in 2014 and faces even bigger hurdles now. Silex Systems CEO Michael Goldsworthy said in July 2014: "The global nuclear industry is still suffering the impacts of the Fukushima event and the shutdown of the entire Japanese nuclear power plant fleet in 2011. Demand for uranium has been slower to recover than expected and enrichment services are in significant oversupply."13

Responding to the recent announcement, pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman said:14

"It is becoming clear that the way to make a small fortune in the uranium enrichment business in the U.S. is to start with a large one. GE-Hitachi has spent millions developing the technology, including successfully building a test loop, and getting a license from the NRC to build a full-scale isotope separation plant in Wilmington, NC.

"GEH is the second major nuclear vendor to exit plans for the business without breaking ground. In 2013 French state-owned nuclear giant Areva suspended plans to build a $3 billion advanced gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plan in Idaho after getting an NRC license and a $2 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. federal government's Department of Energy. Areva, which is over-extended financially, said that the lack of outside investors caused it to cancel plans to break ground."

Laser enrichment has long raised proliferation concerns. A 1999 US State Department report stated that a laser enrichment facility ''might be easier to build without detection and could be a more efficient producer of high enriched uranium for a nuclear weapons program.''15 The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists noted in 2014 that laser enrichment "promises to provide a route to uranium enrichment that is less expensive and harder-to-constrain than the centrifuge enrichment pursued by Iran and North Korea."16


1. World Nuclear News, 22 April 2016, 'Cameco scales back uranium production',

2. PRNewswire, 25 April 2016, 'UPA Calls on Dept. of Energy to Cease Uranium Transfers Until Market Recovers',

3. Christopher Ecclestone, 22 March 2016, 'Uranium ‒ Waiting for Godot or Forging Ahead?',

4. AAP, 20 April 2016, 'Pro-uranium campaign backfires on Twitter',

5. Frik Els, 20 April 2016, 'Uranium market is getting crushed',

6. Prasun Sonwalkar, 22 Apr 2016, 'India not in ‘tearing hurry' on nuclear energy: Piyush Goyal',

7. Will Boisvert, 22 April 2016, 'Global Nuclear Industry Picked Up Steam in 2015',

8. Agneta Rising, 21 April 2016, 'Energy Harmony on a Major Scale',

See also:

9. Steve Kidd, 21 Jan 2015, 'Is climate change the worst argument for nuclear?',

10. Steve Kidd, 8 Jan 2016, 'After COP-21 - where does nuclear stand?',

11. WNN, 19 April 2016, 'GE-Hitachi to exit laser enrichment JV',

12. Keith Williams, 21 April 2016, 'New Evidence Of Challenge For Nuclear Power Industry',

13. Silex Systems, 24 July 2014, 'GLE Restructures to Align with Adverse Market Conditions',

14. Dan Yurman, 24 April 2016, 'Starts, Stops & In-between for New Nuclear Projects in U.S.',

15. Michael Richardson, 6 Aug 2012, 'Uranium on the laser's edge',

16. Lawrence M. Krauss et al., 13 Jan 2014, 'Five minutes is too close',

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

India: nuclear lobbyist heads national solar company.
India's prime minister has appointed Anil Kakodkar, former head of the Atomic Energy Commission to be in charge of the national solar mission. The Solar Energy Corporation of India was recently set up as a not-for-profit company and will work under the administrative control of the New and Renewable Energy Ministry (NREM).  The move to appoint Kakodkar will likely create somewhat of a controversy, as India Today points out, calling the decision "a bizarre move that smacks of unfair public policymaking," and a "clear case of conflict of interest." His appointment as head of the solar mission is bound to upset anti-nuclear activists in the country who want the government to actively promote alternatives such as solar and wind while giving up investments in nuclear energy.

Ignoring this contribution of renewable sources of energy, Kakodkar has constantly projected nuclear energy as the "inevitable and indispensable option" that addresses both sustainability as well as climate change issues. But despite huge investments during the past half a century, nuclear power contributes just a fraction of India's energy needs. The total installed capacity of nuclear power in the country is 4,780 MW, while the total installed capacity of renewable sources of energy is 20,162 MW, according to data collected by the Central Electricity Authority.

In his new role, Kakodkar will be responsible for turning around the fortunes of the government’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM). The Solar Energy Corporation of India has been created to act as its executing arm. Although still in its infancy, its organization has already come under fire from both developers and politicians. In the first days of 2012 the findings of a Parliamentary panel were released, labeling the Ministry’s approach to the national solar mission as “disappointing” and “lackadaisical”. This research followed on from disappointing end-of-year installation figures, which saw just 400MW of the 1.2GW of installations forecasted by the government achieve grid connection.
India Today, 6 January 2012  / PV Tech, 6 January 2012

Netherlands: Borssele 2 delayed; EDF no longer interested.
Delta, the regional utility wanting to build a nuclear reactor at Borssele, delayed its decision about investing 110 million in a new license by at least half a year. Furthermore they announced that Delta will no longer be the leading company in the project. Although it is hard to find out what that exactly means, it is clear that Delta will not have a majority stake in the reactor if the project continues. Many people expect this is the end of the project. However, in a press statement Delta is repeating its commitment towards nuclear energy.

Another surprising outcome was that the French state utility EDF (which signed a Memorandum of Understanding about investigating the possibilities for a new reactor in the Netherlands with Delta in 2010) is not longer involved in the project. Delta CEO Boerma, a passionate but clumsy nuclear advocate, left the company, but that cannot be seen as the end of the nuclear interest in nuclear power, either. It is a sacrifice to reassure the shareholders he offended several times in the last months.

German RWE (via the Dutch subsidiary ERH Essent) is another interested partner for a new reactor at Borssele. ERH is in the process to obtain a licence and has the same decision to make as Delta to invest 110 million euro in obtaining a license. If RWE is still interested at all, it is more likely they will cooperate with a large share in the Delta project.

Public support in Zeeland for a new reactor is plummeting according to several polls early December. This is another nail in the coffin, because Delta is very keen to point out there is almost a unanimously positive feeling in the Zeeland province about the second nuclear power plant.

If Delta can not present solid partners for the project at the next stakeholders meeting planned in June 2012, those stakeholders will decide to pull the plug. 
Laka Foundation, 11 January 2012

US: Large area around the Grand Canyon protected from mining.
On January 9, 2012, after more than 2 years of environmental analysis and receiving many thousands of public comments from the American people, environmental and conservation groups, the outdoor recreation industry, mayors and tribal leaders, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar withdrew more than 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) of land around the canyon from new mining claims for the next twenty years -the longest period possible under the law.

In the months immediately leading up to this landmark decision, many environmental organizations worked with conservation advocates and outdoors enthusiasts around the country to urge the Administration to halt toxic uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. Interior Secretary Salazar received comments from nearly 300,000 citizens urging him to withdraw one million acres of land from new mining claims.

The decision however would allow a small number of existing uranium and other hard rock mining operations in the region to continue while barring the new claims. In 2009 Mr. Salazar suspended new uranium claims on public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon for two years, overturning a Bush administration policy that encouraged thousands of new claims when the price of uranium soared in 2006 and 2007. Many of the stakeholders are foreign interests, including Rosatom, Russia's state atomic energy corporation.

The landscape is not the only thing at stake. Uranium mining in western states has an abysmal track-record. In Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, uranium mining has had undeniable health impacts on miners and nearby residents, including cancer, anemia and birth defects. Even the Grand Canyon itself bears the scars of uranium mining. Radioactive waste has poisoned streams and soil in and around the canyon, while abandoned and active mines are scars on the Arizona landscape. Soil levels around the abandoned Orphan Mine inside Grand Canyon National Park are 450 times more than normal levels, and visitors to the park are warned not to drink from Horn Creek. The closest mine currently in operation, Arizona 1, is less than 2 miles from the canyon’s rim. “Mining so close to the Grand Canyon could contaminate the Colorado River, which runs through the canyon, and put the drinking water for 25 million Americans at risk,” added Pyne. “Uranium mining has already left a toxic legacy across the West -every uranium mine ever opened has required some degree of toxic waste clean-up- it certainly doesn’t belong near the Grand Canyon.”
Environment America, 9 January 2012 / New York Times, 6 January 2012

Finland, Olkiluoto 3.
August 2014 is the date that Teollisuuden Voima Oyj (TVO) expects to see power flow from its new reactor, Olkiluoto 3, according to a single-line statement issued on 21 December. The announcement brought a little more clarity to the unit's schedule compared with TVO's last announcement, which specified only the year 2014. The Finnish utility said it had been informed by the Areva-Siemens consortium building the unit that August 2014 was scheduled for commercial operation.

Construction started in May 2005. A few days after the October announcement that Olkiluoto cannot achieve grid-connection before 2014 the French daily was citing a report stating that the costs for Areva are expected to 6.6 billion euro (then US$ 9.1 billion). The price mentioned (and decided on) in Finnish Parliament was 2.5 billion euro, the initial contract for Olkiluoto 3 was 3 billion euro.
World Nuclear News, 21 December 2011 / Nuclear Monitor 735, 21 October 2012

France: 13 billion euro to upgrade safety of nuclear reactors.
In response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, French nuclear safety regulator ASN has released a 524-page report on the state of nuclear reactors in France. The report says that government-controlled power provider Electricité de France SA (EDF) needs to make significant upgrades “as soon as possible” to its 58 reactors in order to protect them from potential natural disasters. The ASN gave reactor operators until June 30 to deliver proposals meeting the enhanced security standards of sites they run. Costs for the upgrades are estimated at 10 billion euros (US$13.5 billion); previously planned upgrades to extend the life of the nation’s reactors from 40 to 60 years are now expected to cost as much as 50 billion euros. Modifications include building flood-proof diesel pumps to cool reactors, creating bunkered control rooms, and establishing an emergency task force that can respond to nuclear disasters within 24 hours. Andre Claude Lacoste, the Chairman of ASN, said, “We are not asking the operator to make these investments. We are telling them to do so.” French Energy Minister Eric Besson plans to meet with EDF and reactor maker Areva, as well as CEA, the government-funded technological research organization, on January 9 to discuss implementation of ASN’s recommendations. Seventy-five percent of France’s energy comes from nuclear power, more than that of any other country. Experts say that the cost of nuclear power in France will almost certainly rise as a result of the required upgrades. EDF shares are down as much as 43 percent in the last 12 months.
Greenpeace blog, 6 January 2012 / Bloomberg, 4 January 2012

Nuclear's bad image? James Bond's Dr. No is to blame!
James Bond movies are to blame for a negative public attitude to nuclear power, according to a leading scientist. Professor David Phillips, president of the Royal Society Of Chemistry, reckons that supervillains such as Dr No, the evil genius with his own nuclear reactor, has helped create a "remorselessly grim" perception of atomic energy. Speaking ahead of Bond's 50th anniversary celebrations, Phillips said he hopes to create a "renaissance" in nuclear power. In the first Bond film of the same name, Dr No is eventually defeated by Sean Connery's 007 who throws him into a cooling pool in the reactor. And Phillips claims that this set a precedent for nuclear power being sees as a "barely controllable force for evil", according to BBC News, since later villains hatched similar nuclear plots.
NME, 12 January 2012

North Korea: halting enrichment for food?
On January 11, North Korea suggested it was open to halting its enrichment of uranium in return for concessions that are likely to include food assistance from the United States, the Washington Post reported. A statement said to be from a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman urged the Obama administration to "build confidence" by including a greater amount of food in a bilateral agreement reportedly struck late last year shortly before the sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Washington halted food assistance to the North after the regime carried out what was widely seen as a test of its long-range ballistic missile technology in spring 2009.

While rebuking the United States for connecting food assistance to security concerns, the statement was less bombastic than the proclamations that are typically issued by the Stalinist state. The statement marked the first time Pyongyang made a public pronouncement about the rumored talks with Washington on a deal for food assistance in exchange for some nuclear disarmament steps. Washington has demanded that Pyongyang halt uranium enrichment efforts unveiled in 2010 as one condition to the resumption of broader North Korean denuclearization negotiations that also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea (the socalled six-party talks).

The Obama administration has been exceedingly wary about agreeing to any concessions with Pyongyang, which has a long track record of agreeing to nuclear disarmament actions in return for foreign assistance only to reverse course once it has attained certain benefits.
Global Security Newswire, 11 January 2012

Support for nuclear is not 100% any more in CR and SR.
Both Czech and Slovak Republic until recently announced intentions of keeping nuclear power and even increasing capacity by constructing new nuclear power plants – more the less for export.  However, Fukushima and “nearby” Germany´s phase-out caused doubts.  Mr. Janiš, the Chairman of the Economic Committee of the Slovak Parliament said today: “I have not seen an objective study on the benefits of constructing a new nuclear power plant in Jaslovské Bohunice,” said Mr. Janiš. According to him it would be a wrong decision to make Slovakia into a nuclear superpower, when e.g. Germany and Switzerland are phasing out their plants. Mr. Janiš thinks that biomass and sun are the future. Contrary to him, the minister of economy Mr. Juraj Miškov still believes that the fifth unit in Jaslovské Bohunice has a future; the feasibility study will be ready by mid 2012. He is convinced that due to the phase-out in some countries, the electricity demand will increase and Slovakia might become an even more important electricity exporting country than until now.

This comes only days after the Czech Republic announced to downsize the Temelin tender from 5 to 2 reactors thereby losing the possibility to negotiate a 30% lower price. Also here a major question is: will Austria and Germany be interested in importing nuclear power?, 10 January 2012

Russia: 25,000 undersea radioactive waste sites.
There are nearly 25,000 hazardous underwater objects containing solid radioactive waste in Russia, an emergencies ministry official said on December 26. The ministry has compiled a register of so-called sea hazards, including underwater objects in the Baltic, Barents, White, Kara, and Black Seas as well as the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan. These underwater objects include nuclear submarines that have sunk and ships with ammunition and oil products, chemicals and radioactive waste. Hazardous sites with solid radioactive waste sit on the sea bed mainly at a depth of 500 meters, Oleg Kuznetsov, deputy head of special projects at the ministry’s rescue service, said. Especially dangerous are reactor holds of nuclear submarines off the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago and a radio-isotope power units sunk near Sakhalin Island, he added.
RIA Novosti, 26 December 2011

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Argentina reactivates enrichment plant.
Argentina has formally reactivated its gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment plant at Pilcaniyeu over two decades after production there halted. The plant is expected to become operational in September 2011. Plans to recommission the Pilcanyeu plant, which operated from 1983 to 1989, were announced in 2006 and form part of Argentina's ambition to build a self-sufficient nuclear fuel cycle. Work has been underway to refurbish and upgrade the plant, which uses gaseous diffusion, using Argentina's own technology. The first stage of the refurbishment has involved the construction of an advanced prototype of 20 diffusers, and the plant is expected to be able to produce its first enriched uranium for nuclear fuel use by September 2011 according to the CNEA. President Fernandez said that in reactivating the plant, Argentina was recovering lost time. She described uranium enrichment as "a right that we should never have resigned." The project was "a source of great pride" for the country, she said. The original Pilcaniyeu plant had a modest enrichment capacity of 20,000 SWU per year, although plans call for the upgraded plant ultimately to reach a capacity of some 3 million SWU.
Source: World Nuclear News, 26 October 2010

INES 20 years old.
Jointly developed by the IAEA and the Nuclear Energy Agency (of the OECD) in 1990, in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident, the International Nuclear and radiological Event Scale (INES) helps nuclear and radiation safety authorities and the nuclear industry worldwide to rate nuclear and radiological events and to communicate their safety significance to the general public, the media and the technical community. INES was initially used to classify events at nuclear power plants only, but since 2008, INES has been extended to any event associated with the transport, storage and use of radioactive material and radiation sources, from those occurring at nuclear facilities to those associated with industrial use. INES has mainly become a crucial nuclear communications tool. Over the years, national nuclear safety authorities have made growing use of INES, while the public and the media have become "more familiar with the scale and its significance". According to the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency "this is where the true success of INES stands, having helped to foster transparency and to provide a better understanding of nuclear-related events and activities".
Source: Nuclear Engineering International, 22 October 2010

International Uranium Film Festival 2011 in Brazil.
For the first time in history Brazilians will be able to see international independent Nuclear-Energy and Uranium-Documentaries in cinema. The film and video festival Uranio em Movi(e)mento - 1st International Uranium Film Festival 2011 will help to bring the Uranium- and Nuclear question into the national and international public. The deadline  for entries is January 20, 2011. The Uranium Film Festival wants to inform especially the Brazilian and Latin American societies and stimulate the production of independent documentaries and movies about the whole nuclear fuel cycle, about the dangers of radioactivity and especially about the environmental and health risks of uranium exploration, mining and processing. The Uranium Film Festival will be held from May 21 to 28, 2011 in the city of Rio de Janeiro and from June 2 to 9 in the city of Sao Paulo.

Until today most of the documentaries about uranium and the nuclear risks are mainly in English, German or French - but not in Portuguese. So the second advantage of our Uranium Film Festival is to subtitle the films to create the so called Yellow Archives. Yellow is the color of Uranium and for that a symbol for the whole nuclear industry.

The Yellow Archives will be the first-ever film library in Brazil and Latin America dedicated to films about the whole nuclear fuel chain organized by the Uranio em Movi(e)mento Festival. Believing that awareness is the first step in making positive changes to better our environment, the Yellow Archives hopes to increase public awareness especially in Brazil and in other Portuguese speaking countries like Portugal or Angola and Mozambique. The DVDs will be used for non-profit, educational and research purposes. Especially schools, universities, environmental groups and other grass root movements will have access to the Yellow Archives.
Contact  and source: / Website:

India: antinuclear activists arrested.
On October 6, eleven activists of "Paramanu Bidyut Birodhi Prachar Andolan" (Campaign against Nuclear Power) were forcefully seized by the local police while distributing leaflets opposing the proposed Haripur nuclear power plant, in the vicinity of Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Kolkata, where Dr. Srikumar Banerjee, the Atomic Energy Commission Chairman, had arrived to preach the merits of setting up of a 'nuclear park' at Haripur. The handful of activists present had not even entered the institute campus and were distributing leaflets on the road outside. First one activist was forced into a police jeep and hauled away to the local police station. The rest were pushed away from the immediate vicinity of the Saha Institute. But when the activists continued distributing their leaflets, a police van was brought in, the police suddenly pounced, herded the activists into a police-van and taken to the local station. The activists were held for over 6 hours in the name of interrogation. However, no actual interrogation was conducted. For the real reason for detention, which the officers divulged off-the-record, was to keep the activists away from the site (where the vast benefits of nuclearisation was being preached). That, in their minds, was the ideal way of handling critics and criticism.
Source:, 7 October 2010

Vermont Yankee tritium leaks into aquifer.
The leaking radioactive tritium from Vermont Yankee has now leaked into the aquifer that drinking water is pulled from in and around the town of Vernon, Vermont. Entergy Louisiana, the corporate owners of Vermont Yankee, could do more to contain the contamination but are refusing. The Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Natural Resources are doing nothing to require Entergy to increase the cleanup effort. More is needed to pressure the state agencies into action. When the Oyster Creek Nuclear Reactor in New Jersey contaminated the ground water with radioactive tritium the NJ Department of Environmental Protection took enforcement action. When the Braidwood Station Nuclear reactor in Illinois contaminated the ground water and then the drinking water aquifer of the local community the Illinois EPA took enforcement action. Entergy Vermont Yankee, likely leaked radioactive materials into our state's ground water for two or three years and now it is clear that at least some of that contamination has also gotten into the local drinking water aquifer. Continued pumping, at deeper depths, should be able to keep hundreds of thousands if not millions of gallons of contaminated water from migrating further into the aquifer and yet there has been no talk from your agencies about requiring even this simple step.  Instead Entergy Vermont Yankee is planning on ending all of their pumping in December. Ultimately, the contaminated soil needs to be removed and that can't happen until the plant is retired and cleaned up.

Vermont Yankee is scheduled to close in March of 2012. It is one of the oldest reactors in the country but its owners, Entergy Corporation, want to run it for 20 years past its expiration date. Poor management and old age have lead to a string of accidents and safety concerns.
Entergy has refused to add money to the reactor's clean-up fund, potentially leaving Vermonters with most of a $1 billion dollar clean-up bill in addition to the nuclear waste that is being stored on the banks of the Connecticut River.
On February 23, 2010, and by a margin of 26 to 4 the Senate voted to retire the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant as scheduled. This historic vote marks the first time a state legislature has been able to deny a nuclear plant a 20-year life extension. In March, fifteen towns voted on town meeting to close Vermont Yankee as scheduled. That combined with the 36 towns that voted in 2009, a total of 51 towns, have spoken -- they want Vermont Yankee to close as scheduled.

The public sentiment expressed by the town meeting votes this year and last show overwhelming opposition to continued operation of Vermont Yankee after 2012 and very strong support for requiring Entergy to fully fund the cleanup and for safe, clean and renewable sources of electricity.

The resolution calls for the plant's closure in 2012 and for Entergy-- the owner of Vermont Yankee-- pay for the full cost of decommissioning the plant. A vast majority of Vermonters know Entergy cannot be trusted.

U.S.A.: Hanford cleanup; new deadlines.
Washington state and federal officials have agreed on a new schedule for the cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation. The good news is that the federal government could no longer ignore cleanup deadlines with impunity. The bad news is that the agreement would push the deadlines forward by more than two decades. Under the new cleanup schedule, 53 millions gallons of radioactive waste stored in 177 underground tanks near the Columbia River would not have to be emptied until 2052. That's a 24-year delay from the existing timetable. (see more on the Hanford tanks, Nuclear Monitor 696, October 23, 2009). Thirty-five of those tanks are double-walled and considered 'reliably safe'.  All of the 142 single-walled tanks would have to be emptied by 2047 under this new schedule. And the tanks of most concern — the 67 single-walled tanks known to be leaking — would be emptied by 2014. It's estimated that more than 1 million gallons (1 US gallon is 3.787 liter) of radioactive waste already have leaked. Some of that waste has made it into the groundwater and is slowly moving toward the nearby Columbia River.

The state has long sought to make Hanford cleanup deadlines enforceable in court. Until now, the federal government has steadfastly refused to do so and now the government finally agreed to the court-enforceable deadlines. This accountability has become critical. Without it, there can be little confidence that the government would adhere to any cleanup schedule. The federal government has failed to meet numerous deadlines established in the 1989 Tri-Party Agreement signed by the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Washington. It's not as though the state has refused to be flexible. Washington has agreed to more than 400 changes in the Tri-Party Agreement. Yet as recently as last year, the government missed 23 project deadlines.
Source: The Daily News Online (, 19 October 2010

South Africa: six reactors up and running in 2023.
On October 7, The department of Energy of South Africa published an ambitious plan to reduce SA reliance on coal by almost half by 2030 and to more than double the use of nuclear energy The proposals, which are part of the department's draft integrated electricity resource plan (IRP), show the government's preferred energy mix for the next 20 years. They provide prospective investors with an indication of the shape of South African future energy industry. The integrated resource plan is a 20-year electricity capacity plan that gives an outcome of projected future electricity demand, how the demand would be met and at what cost.

In the draft IRP, the department is proposing that coal contribute 48% to the energy mix by 2030, followed by renewable energy (16%), nuclear (14%), peaking open cycle gas turbine (9%), peaking pump storage (6%), mid-merit gas (5%) and baseload import hydro (2%).  Coal currently accounts for over 90% of electricity generation. Eskom's two nuclear reactors at the Koeberg power station supply 1800MW or 6% of SA's electricity needs. The renewable energy industry is yet to take off in SA. The draft plan envisages average gross domestic growth of 4,6% on over the next 20 years, which would require 52 248 MW of new power generation capacity to be brought on line. The government plans to build six new nuclear power stations which are expected to be up and running by 2023. Only  a few months ago, the government stopped the PBMR-nuclear project after it poured billions in it over the last decades.
Source: Eastcoast radio, 8 October 2010 / Engineering News (SA), 8 October 2010

CEZ delays Temelin reactors.
CEZ AS, the Czech Republic's largest power producer, will delay the construction of two  additional reactors at its Temelin nuclear power plant, Hospodarske Noviny reports, citing Industry and Trade Minister Martin Kocourek. The construction could be delayed by as much as several years, the newspaper said,citing an unidentified person from the company. The main reason is uncertain demand for electricity after 2020, according to the report. CEZ selected Westinghouse Electric Co., Areva SA and a Russian-Czech consortium led by ZAO Atomstroyexport as the three bidders for the contract.

This is good news for the whole CEE region. Until recently, CEZ has been agresivelly pushing construction of 5 new reactors in the region (2 in Czech Republic, 1 in Slovakia,  other 2 to be determined). But now the plans are put to ice, citing less demand and lower  prices on electricity markets, as well as less optimistic rating outlook of the utility. But there are more interesting details in original Hospodarske Noviny article: Quoting for example an internal CEZ document: "The expansion plans were based on increasing of our [CEZ] debt. But we are not anymore sweetheart of the markets, we are not considered as a stable and growing corporation, we are getting first signals from rating agencies..."

Similarly to EdF, CEZ already had to reduce its investment program by 2015 from 425 to 333 billion CZK [ca 13 billion EUR], and this is not enough - it admits the cuts will have to be deeper.
Source: Email: Greenpeace International, 13 October 2010

New press for reactor pressure vessels.
A major new facility has been commissioned in Germany for the production of large reactor components. The 12,000 ton press installed at Völklingen by Saarschmiede GmbH Freiformschmiede can handle ingots of up to 370 tons - enough to make all but the largest reactor pressure vessels. The time for construction was only two years. Due to its geometrical dimensions," the company said, the press is "able to deal with all parts of the AP1000." It estimated that some four to six sets of heavy forgings for AP1000s could be made annually at the facility, given certain other expansions. Westinghouse has sourced forgings from South Korea's Doosan Heavy Industries for the four AP1000s under construction in China as well as the four forthcoming units at Vogtle and Summer in the USA.
Source: World Nuclear News, 14 October 2010

Chernobyl 1986-2011
Next year April marks the 25th anniversary of the disaster in the Chernobyl nuclear power station, in the Ukraine. For sure there will be many commemorative activities taking place all over the globe. WISE will, starting next issue, try to cover relevant developments and news on Chernobyl in the Nuclear Monitor, and we would like to start listing as much as possible activities, publications, actions, official reports, meetings and conferences on this issue.

With several other NGO’s in different parts of the world we are preparing a joint call for action. You will hear from us soon, we hope to hear from you aswell; please send in anything you have heard about activities on the coming Chernobyl Day. In the meantime; join the Virtual March on Washinton, for April 26, as part of an International Radioactive Waste Action Day. Go to

Nuclear energy decreases world stability and increases inequality

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

Jordanians are wondering why the United States is opposing efforts from Jordan to establish a uranium enrichment program. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and other international accords "guarantee the right of all nations to develop nuclear energy meant for peaceful purposes", which includes uranium enrichment.

Jordan has huge uranium reserves. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has estimated that the country has uranium deposits of nearly 112,000 tons, ranking 11th on the global chart. It has licensed French energy company Areva to extract 2,000 tons of uranium ore annually from its central and southern deserts. A British-Australian company and a Chinese firm are also exploring other regions for deposits.

Jordan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Khaled Toukan says the country's nuclear project, including uranium enrichment "is not a choice but a national necessity that will guarantee the nation's future."

A Jordanian view:
But the US is opposing uranium enrichment in Jordan. According to the US proposal, Jordan must exchange its uranium for enriched uranium produced in foreign countries, a move that would impose a burdensome expenditure on Jordan. The US is not just trying to impose this restriction on Jordan. In fact, Washington wants to deprive all Arab states of their national and international right to enrich uranium.

Jordan and the US signed a memorandum of understanding on nuclear cooperation in 2008 that guaranteed Jordan's right to enrich uranium. In the same year, Jordan also entered into talks with two US companies for the construction of its first nuclear power plant, and without consultation with any other Arab country, waived its right to enrichment. Saudi Arabia and Egypt will probably also be forced to accept the same fate. However, the main difference is that those two countries both sit atop vast oil reserves.

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and has remained one of Washington's main unwavering allies in the Middle East. It is referred to as a NATO partner. All these concessions should allow the country to demand its right to enrich uranium, as enumerated in international agreements.

One Jordanian official says the real US policy is to ban foreign enrichment and nuclear fuel production. According to this policy, nuclear programs from the Nile to the Euphrates would be required to be dependent on nuclear fuel exporting countries. In the Middle East, only Israel is allowed to enjoy access to the complete nuclear fuel cycle, and the US is opposed to any efforts that could break this monopoly.

What was that again on nuclear power and independence?

At the moment, Jordan needs to import 95% of its oil and gas needs. In 2007, the nation of 7 million people spent US$3.2 billion to buy oil. This figure swelled to US$3.9 billion in 2008, which is about 20% of Jordan's gross domestic product. Imagine the possibilities of solar and what that would mean for dependency and the gross domestic product! Because there are (too) many examples that nuclear power does not decrease dependency on oil.

Source:, 14 August 2010


Proliferations costs of laser enrichment

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

Safety and non-proliferation are two key premises –"important minimum requirements"- for global expansion of nuclear power and countries seeking nuclear use must adhere to these principles, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Nobuo Tanaka stressed during the International Conference on Access to Civil Nuclear Energy held in Paris. The meeting, initiated by France and co-organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency and OECD, aims to promote bilateral and multilateral cooperation between countries eager for nuclear access and willing to share nuclear experience.

But what about proliferation? Due to a new technology, the problem of proliferation will rather become worse than better. Two scientists are claiming that the ‘new’ uranium enrichment technology SILEX (separation of isotopes by laser excitation) is so proliferation prone that the dangers outweigh the so-called advantages: exponential improvements in efficiency.

In an article in Nature (March 4, 2010) the two -Francis Slakey (Upjohn lecturer in physics and public policy at Georgetown University, Washington DC) and Linda R. Cohen (professor of economics and law at the University of California, Irvine)- they warn that the world is heading towards the development of nuclear-enrichment technologies so cheap and small that they would be virtually undetectable by satellites. The say that those proliferation risks incurred from such technologies are “simply not worth the benefits”. Over the past 60 years, technologies that enrich uranium to make fuel for nuclear reactors have shown exponential improvements in efficiency. But those improvements also come with a heavy price: an increased risk of proliferation. It is far easier to covertly build a small, lower-energy enrichment facility than a large, energy-intensive one.

In their opinion, the newest laser enrichment technology — called separation of isotopes by laser excitation (SILEX) — offers more potential risks than benefits. The development and potential misappropriation of an enrichment facility too small and efficient to be detected could be a game-changer for nuclear proliferation.

Global Laser Enrichment, a subsidiary of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, has applied for a license from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to operate a full-scale commercial SILEX plant in North Carolina. This is open for public petition until 15 March, and a final decision is expected to take at least another year. Numerous analysts, as well as the authors of a recent report from the American Physical Society ('Technical Steps to Support Nuclear Arsenal Downsizing'), have called for the NRC to examine proliferation risks as part of its licensing process. Such a barrier would discourage commercial research and development in this area, the authors suggest.

To assess the costs and benefits of a new technology, its efficiency must be measured. To make reactor fuel, the concentration of fissile uranium-235 must be increased compared with the uranium-238 in the sample. The efficiency of an isotope-separation technology can be measured in terms of the increase in the proportionate concentration of uranium-235 in the enriched stream — or ‘separative work units’ (SWU) — per megawatt-hour of electricity consumed by the plant (SWU MWh−1). The quantity of SWUs needed to produce a kilogram of reactor fuel depends on three factors: the percentage of uranium-235 required

in the final fuel, the percentage present in the natural uranium feedstock and the percentage acceptable in the depleted uranium tailings (waste). If uranium feed is cheap and SWUs expensive, fuel of a given enrichment level can be made in a cost effective way by using more uranium and living with a higher proportion of residual uranium-235 in the tailings. Alternatively, expensive uranium and cheap SWUs make it worthwhile to squeeze more of the uranium-235 out of the feedstock.

The initial enrichment method, developed in the 1940s and called the calutron, was a mass spectrometer that ionized the uranium and used magnetic fields to filter out the uranium- 235. This was displaced by the technique of gaseous diffusion, which forces uranium hexafluoride through semipermeable membranes.

In the 1960s, centrifuge enrichment was developed, which dramatically decreased the energy required. The technology’s efficiency has increased from roughly 0.5 SWU MWh−1 in 1945 to more than 5 SWU MWh−1 in the 1960s, and over 20 SWU MWh−1 today.

More than 20 countries have experimented with laser enrichment over the past two decades, including South Korea and Iran, without much success. SILEX was developed by the Australian company Silex Systems, and is now being commercialized exclusively by GE Hitachi. In 2006, Silex stated that it anticipated the technology to be anywhere from 1.6 to 16 times more efficient than first-generation centrifuges. The details are classified and the efficiency claims impossible to verify. But assuming a continuation of historical trends in enrichment efficiency it seems reasonable to assume a doubling of today’s best efficiency by 2020.

It is generally assumed that this improvement will lead to financial benefits for consumers. But such an effect would be small: about US$0.66 per household per month, as calculated in the Nature article. Doubling nuclear generation in the US by 2025 (a very ambitious growth scenario for the nuclear industry) could double the value of enrichment savings to US$1.32 per household a month. In addition, a change in the relative prices of enrichment services (lower) and natural uranium (higher) will increase the demand for SWUs in the production of fuel. If the price of the former halves and the price of the latter doubles, the authors of the Nature article calculate — based on a cost-optimization of formulae for enrichment processes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge — that demand for SWUs will increase by 40% for the same level of electricity production from nuclear power.

The construction, heat signature and power usage of large nuclear enrichment plants can usually be detected, but smaller centrifuge plants can be kept secret for years, as the recent revelation of a facility being built in Qom, Iran, shows. If laser enrichment is as efficient as has been suggested, then it could occupy a space substantially smaller than a warehouse (75% smaller than centrifuge technologies) and draw no more electricity than a dozen typical houses. This could put such plants well below the detection threshold of existing surveillance technology — even when used to enrich uranium on a large scale.

Hidden costs of nuclear power
As a contrast to the savings anticipated from laser enrichment, calculated in the article, consider the public costs associated with containing such technologies. According to the Congressional Research Service, the US government spent roughly US$990 million in 2008 on nonproliferation programs. In particular, this included more than US$200 million to research and develop technology to detect covert enrichment facilities. Others estimate that US$5 billion — 10% of the US government’s annual budget for nuclear-security activities — can be credited to non-proliferation activities.

Over the past decade, the United States has spent money on non-proliferation activities at a total cost of more than US$50 per household a month.

An increase in the number of countries with access to perhaps-undetectable laser enrichment technologies would only increase these costs. As a first step in containing the risks of laser enrichment, Congress should require that an evaluation of proliferation risks be part of the NRC licensing process. Such an evaluation would be a natural extension of the NRC’s mandate to ensure that technology is not used “in a manner that is hostile to the interests of the United States”. The NRC already has a process for evaluating confidential information, so this need not be difficult to enact.

An argument has been made that by developing laser enrichment technology in the United States, US entities can ensure that the technology is adequately safeguarded against proliferation. History does not instill confidence in this approach. Previous enrichment technologies — the calutron, gas centrifuge and advanced centrifuge — have all created proliferation risks over the past 50 years despite efforts to withhold the information.

A second argument offered in favour of developing such technologies is that if the United States doesn’t do so, some other country will, in which case the costs of protecting against proliferation will be even higher. There are two responses to this: first, if the United States ceases development and takes no further action, the technology will certainly be delayed. Second, to limit the availability of the technology, the United States need now only negotiate with the handful of technologically advanced countries capable of laser enrichment innovation. It would be best if all nations took a stance of repressing new technologies for more efficient uranium enrichment. But it is clear that the risk of proliferation will only decrease when nuclear power is phased-out.

Sources: ‘Secrets, lies and uranium enrichment: The classified Silex project at Lucas Heights’, Greenpeace, 2004 / ‘Stop laser uranium enrichment’, Francis Slakey and Linda R.Cohen in: Nature, 4 March 2010 / / Xinhua News Agency, 8 March 2010


Laser enrichment plants can be used to produce highly enriched uranium in just a few stages, as opposed to the thousands of stages required using centrifuges. A 1977 report by the US Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) highlighted this as one of the major proliferation problems posed by laser enrichment The report also expressed the concern that the sale of laser enrichment technology by commercial entities, could hasten the proliferation of the technology.

The sensitive nature of the SILEX technology was formally recognised in 1996, after SILEX Systems signed an agreement with the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC). The US Department of Energy (DOE) then classified the SILEX process as “Restricted Data”, RD – a classification that usually relates to the design of nuclear weapons, or the use or acquisition of nuclear material suitable for their construction.

This was the first time in history that privately held technology was given this classification.

On April 30, 2003, USEC Inc. announced that it is ending its funding for research and development of the SILEX laser-based uranium enrichment process. USEC has been funding R&D on the SILEX process since 1996, when the Company signed an agreement with Silex Systems Limited in Australia. USEC will now focus all of its advanced technology resources on the demonstration and deployment of USEC’s American Centrifuge uranium enrichment technology. On May 22, 2006 GE Energy’s nuclear business has signed an exclusive agreement with Silex Systems Limited, an Australia-based technology innovator, to license the technology and develop the company's next generation low enriched uranium manufacturing process in the United States. The transaction is subject to, among other things, governmental approvals and regulatory controls on the design, construction and operation of the process. On October 4, 2006, Silex announced that GE Energy's nuclear business and Silex Systems Limited received the U.S. government authorizations required to proceed with an agreement granting GE exclusive rights to develop and commercialize Silex’s laser-based uranium enrichment technology.