Welcome back to decouple. Today I am rejoined by James Crellin Stein, who many of you must be now quite familiar with, after our recent three episodes, which have garnered a lot of praise. So James, I won't burden you with another self introduction. You're well known around these parts. Welcome back to decouple.
Thank you for having me back.
So, James, today, we've been planning a pretty exciting episode on the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle. And I think, for the non nerds out there, I'm going to try and make it a little more exciting by posing kind of a hypothetical situation and you tell me kind of how bad that would be. You're ready. Rock on. Okay. Okay. So I think those of us have been paying attention. Obviously, the uranium space is going bonkers, because there's good news for uranium investors. But the more savvy will certainly be aware that there is some vulnerability in terms of a part of that uranium fuel cycle, which is, of course, the enrichment phase. So I want us to all imagine a Russian embargo on the export of enriched fuel. And I want you to walk me through what that would mean, I guess we'll focus on the USA here. How long that would take two bytes. And whether we'd have time to deal with that. And then I think we'll dive a little bit more into describing this, this fantastic topic, getting into some really interesting history, some Soviet kidnapping German scientists, I won't give away too many teasers. So take it away with that hypothetical situation, James.
So you know, we should just start by saying right now, the United States relies heavily on Russia for its enrich uranium. Right now, every single nuclear power plant in the United States, unlike you, people, you folks up north who have these nice heavy water reactors that can use an enriched uranium, we require our nuclear power plants just to for the reactors to go critical, the uranium that gets put in them needs to be enriched. So you know, the basic story here is this. Let me go back. So right now, every, you know, US nuclear power plant, the reactor inside of those plants requires enriched uranium to work. And what does that mean? That means that we can raise up relatively, the concentration of uranium 235 higher than it is normally out of natural uranium, which is at point 7%, when it comes out of the ground, and generally inside us nuclear power plants, we are at 3%, to around 4.95%, uranium 235. The problem is, is that right now, the United States does not have enough capacity to enrich all the fuel it needs each year to refuel those nuclear power plants. And in fact, the rest of the world in total, relies on Russia to provide that fuel right now about one in 20. American homes and businesses, you know, roughly speaking here and sort of averaging it out, are dependent on Russian fuel, right Russian enrichment services in order to basically keep the lights on right now, that is how dependent the United States is, it varies between each year, but every year about 20 to 30%, of the enrichment services, that the US needs to refuel its nuclear power plants are dependent or come from Russia. And that means that in the hypothetical scenario that you just depicted in which Russia all of a sudden, you know, our friend Vladimir Putin decides to say embargo. The United States, you know, no longer ship us those enrichment services, we would have a very big problem on our hands. Now, if you just put up the United States and let other countries that require, including US allies, that require enrichment services is very likely, what we could do is we could sort of play an accounting game and start basically, those countries would have to use more Russian fuel. And we would sort of take up the domestic enrichment services that are the enrichment services that are taken out that are providing those countries and use them to basically fuel our plants, but in a world in which the United States and say the European Union, get boycotted, or you know that the Russians No longer will sell enrichment services to those countries. We would be in a pretty big problem. Now the lights wouldn't go out immediately. Right. We have a lot of both, you know, an average nuclear power plant only takes about 18 to 24 months before it gets refueled in the first place. And we have stockpiled your enriched uranium hexafluoride and also fabricated uranium fuel assemblies and your pellets that are ready to go. But it would be it would require an immediate response in order to build that enrichment capacity to replace the Russians right now the world does not have enough enrichment capacity, speaking globally, to be able to refuel its nuclear reactors without Russia, even excluding Russian and Chinese domestic demand, the world is highly dependent on Russia to basically refuel its nuclear power plants. And this comes out of as you're sort of intimating at the beginning of the of the segment, comes out of some historical accidents that actually go back to the history of World War Two. And then compounded with that by a lot of if we might be frank on the United States, his side, a lot of serious errors by the United States government, and how it handled the enrichment space, particularly after world war after the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
So before we get into all that, let's provide a little more background. First off, I think 46% of the world's enrichment is occurring in Russia 12% In China, where else is it happening? I'm just gonna give you some kind of rapid fire questions to get some things out of the way here.
So right now, the rest of it, if you brand China and Russia, right, 46% is Russia. 12% is China. The rest is basically three European countries believe it or not the United Kingdom, France, I for it for four European countries, excuse me, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, believe it or not, still enriches a lot of uranium and the Netherlands. And three out of those four countries that is Germany, the United Kingdom and Netherlands, they have a big company called Grenco. That is owned by the British, British and Dutch government and owned by two German utilities. And they basically provide they're the next biggest enricher after the Russians. And then the French themselves have their own, you know, uranium fuel company called orano. And they have a very big enrichment complex in try caston called the George Best do facility that is a centrifuge based facility. And then your Aramco also has a pretty big facility here in the United States, in Yunis, New Mexico called the National enrichment facility. Ironically, that facility is owned by the majority by the Dutch and British governments and by some German utilities, but it is in New Mexico. And that's the only source that the United States right now has of domestic uranium enrichment capability. That facility and we'll talk about this unit later, produces on average, around 5.4 million separative work units of enrichment capacity. That's about 1/3 of the 15 million separative work units, the United States needs to procure each year of enrichment services to refuel its nuclear fleet of 92 or 93 reactors now, maybe 94.
Okay, so walk me through again, we'll try and do this kind of rapid fire, but walk me through the beginning of the uranium fuel cycle, we mined the ore, we mill it, we turn it into gas, I mean, I'm not familiar with all this stuff, because I'm up here in Candyland, we don't do none of this, uranium. Some
of this, you gotta mill man, we got to, we got to buy, right. So what we do is, is we take the uranium out of the ground, and maybe likely that's Canada, Canadian ground, maybe Australian ground, maybe Kazakhstan and ground, right, and we take that uranium and we mill it, we we sort of grind up obviously the ore that were taken out of the ground, and we go through some chemical purification steps to purify the uranium from whatever else is in that ore body that we're taking out. And we generally get out of that product, a product that is commonly known as yellowcake we generally assume it's one molecular compound, but it's actually something as a species of chemical compounds. And then in Canada land right or maybe in Romanian, some South Korean, you know, land, we that's kind of, we purify it further, and maybe we'll make into uranium dioxide, I believe candy pellets or uranium dioxide. And that's the end of it, we put the pellets into these, you know, bundles that look like firelogs, and then you pop it into your heavy water reactors. And that's the end of the story, at least on the front end. But here in the United States and the rest of the civilized world, you know, what we really do here is we have to because our reactors are not heavy water reactors, we need to enrich it. And that enrichment process first requires a step called conversion. And what conversion is is the conversion of that yellowcake uranium into a compound called uranium hexafluoride All right, that's U F six, right? One uranium atom and six fluorine atoms per molecule. And what's cool about uranium hexafluoride is that at a very low temperature, it's sublimes into gas. And that gaseous process is what we use to enrich uranium. Now, when we have to understand, in order to understand why enrichment is so difficult, we need to understand the what an isotope is, and why that's different from the normal purification processes and you know, sort of processes that we have every day in everyday life, that make modern society go and make all sorts of different manufactured products. So if you weren't taking something out of the ground, and so I'm going to just dive right in there, right. And so when isotope is so uranium, is a element that has generally let's go back to some basic, some basic chemistry one on one, when we generally are doing any sort of manufacturing process from something that we take out of the ground, we generally utilize chemical processes to take whatever we take out of the ground, purify it, transform it into the things that we want. So for example, if we were making some chlorine based product, well, we'll take sodium chloride, your salt out of the ground, and we'll do some chemical processes, maybe some electrochemistry to basically separate that chlorine ion from the sodium ions, and then we'll, we'll maybe make sodium hypochlorite, which is commonly known as bleach, right? And what we're doing there is we're exploiting that different chemical properties that different elements have. The problem is, is that isotopes by definition, are different versions of the same element. What does that mean? Well, elements are actually defined by the number of protons that are in a nuclei, we call that the atomic number. Right? So in uranium, all different isotopes of uranium have 92 protons. And when we're talking about chemistry, what we're actually talking about is we're exploiting differences in the electrons that surround the nuclei, the different properties that the electrons have. So different elements have different chemical properties, because they have different electron configurations. And generally, then the protons are positively charged, and then an ionized element, right? That is an element that has no charge, you know, a compound that has no charge, the number of electrons are perfectly balanced by the number of protons. So in a uranium atom, no matter what isotope it is, there'll be 92 protons. And if that uranium atoms is an ionized, there'll be 92 electrons surrounding that uranium nucleus. But an isotope what an isotope is, is it's this. It's a version of an element. So it has the same number of protons, but a different number of neutrons. And here's the problem. Neutrons by as their name implies, are neutrally charged, they have no net charge per neutron. So that means that in a different isotope, right, the electron configuration that surrounds that nuclei is going to be identical. In other words, uranium 235, which is in a non fast reactor, really the only fissionable isotope that occurs in naturally occurring uranium that has the identical chemical properties as uranium 238, which is the vast majority of the uranium that you naturally find in the ground. And in a non fast reactor, again, is generally not fissionable. So here's the problem we have. And remember, 99.2% of uranium, when you take it out of the ground, a little bit more than 99.2, almost 99.3% of the uranium that's in the ground is that uranium 238 isotope, only about point seven 1% In a naturally occurring uranium that goes into CANDU reactors or comes out of the ground is uranium 235. But the chemical properties between 235 and 238 are identical. So how do we separate them out? And that is what the process of enrichment is. And it's very, very different than almost any other process that we use in manufacturing today, at least from you know, or purification or chemical. It's very distinct from chemical purification, because they have the same chemical properties. Does that make sense? I know that's a lot to digest in a single, you know, segment, but I'm trying to understand the basic science behind it. Yeah. We're good. So how do we separate this? Well, here's the thing. Neutrons have no charge, but they have a lot of mass. They're, you know, about as heavy as a proton is. And that means that a uranium 235 atom is slightly lighter, then uranium 238 atom. And in fact, that difference is, you know, is actually that three atomic mass units between the 235 and 238. So we can do is we can almost all all commercially, you know, commercially deployed uranium enrichment technologies today utilize that difference in mass between 230, the lighter T 35 and 238 to basically separate them out. So, how do we do that? Well, commercially, and we're ignoring some of the early sort of experiments that were done on the Manhattan Project like call Tron and electromagnetic separation. Generally, commercially, we do two different processes. And actually, right now, we only do one, we there's the first process that was really done in the beginning of the Manhattan Project primarily, or actually, the middle of the Manhattan Project. at Oak Ridge National Lab at K 25 was a process called gaseous diffusion. What is gaseous diffusion? Well, as you said, remember, you said we're converting this uranium? Why that why are we putting it uranium, the heaviest naturally occurring? Element? Why are we putting it into a gas, we don't generally think of uranium as a gas. Well, there's a property in physics called I'm chemistry called diffusion. And diffusion reform, you know, is basically the way that sort of molecules in a gas or in a liquid sort of move around each other. And if we put a if we tastefully take a, you know, a segment of uranium gas is uranium hexafluoride gas. And we separate it by a membrane, that is what we call semi permeable that allows some of the gas to diffuse, but it doesn't allow it all to do at once. Right, there's some time that it takes to separate between, between it, think about it, like you know, you're a piece of filter paper, or a saran wrap or something, it allows the water to slowly diffuse or the gas to slowly diffuse, not all at once. There's a property it's called Ficks law, which basically says that the lighter sort of species, the lighter molecules will diffuse slightly faster than the heavier ones. And so what we do in gaseous diffusion is we take these massive cascades of these several semipermeable membranes, called diffusers, we pump in the gas, we put some pressure on that gas. And we basically slowly allow that uranium hexafluoride gas to diffuse through the semipermeable membrane. And by this Ficks law property, the slightly lighter isotope, Uranium, Uranium hexafluoride molecule with uranium 235 atom, and it will diffuse slightly faster than the uranium 238. And as we do this over and over and over again and 1000s of cascades, we will slowly begin increasing the relative concentration of uranium 235 at each step. And we take away what we call the tails of the segment that sort of left over on the other side of that partition, that has got to have relatively more uranium 238.
So we can repeat that process over and over again in 1000s of cascades, right to basically raise up that process of uranium to drive. So that is how gaseous diffusion works. And what are the downsides to gaseous? Do you want to ask a question there
just to keep it more entertaining? I heard that No. Detail. No, no. It's all good. But just to kind of have the back and forth. I did here. That's was it 7% of all US grid electricity was being consumed at one point by was it just oak riches or a couple of these gas diffusion plans? Right,
we built a huge number both for civilian nuclear power in the United States. And for the nuclear weapons program. We built a huge amount of gaseous diffusion enrichment capacity. And one of the problems that we have about this diffusion process process and diffusers is that we got to take compressors at each set and basically re compress the gas and coolant and heat it at each different time. And that takes a massive amount of power. And we've got three large gaseous diffusion plants in the United States, right, we built one in Oak Ridge National Lab, which is k 25. We build another one in Paducah, Kentucky, and another one in Piketon Ohio. And at one point in the 1950s these takes each one of these plants takes like 3000 megawatts and if they're bigger, but they go a little more power of it. Right? They took a sizable percentage, I believe it was close to five to 7% in the mid 50s of the total amount of electric power that was produced in those years was being dedicated to the uranium enrichment process. test because it just took so much electricity. And we're running 24/7. Right.
And then just as a reminder to those few listeners who are not up with what a megawatt means, I mean, that's like a city of 3 million people. Each of these is consuming literally,
there are massive coal power plants at that time that were built to fuel these gaseous diffusion plants in, in France at that tricast. And facility before they built their current gas centrifuge facility, they actually built four nuclear power plants, four reactors at one nuclear power plant each of 900 megawatts to feed that massive gaseous diffusion plant. So the French could be literally all uranium powered. And so this gaseous diffusion process, it's pretty, it's relatively simple compared to the other techniques that we utilize, but it takes us massive amount of energy. That is another process. Oh, sorry. Go ahead. And
to keep to keep it narrative here. Maybe we can work in Yeah, that other process and how it came to be sorry for the disruption jump on in? Yeah, no, I
was about to go into. The other process is a process called gas centrifuges. And what gas centrifuges are, are as their name are their centrifuges, right that are big spinning wrote, you know, basically rotor assembly that goes at 1000s of rotations per minute, that spins the gas, and the heavier molecules of it, of the gas, like a regular centrifuge, like in your washing machine. Or if you've ever worked in a chemistry or bio lab, where the heavier stuff will go to the outside and the lighter stuff will go into the middle. So what that allows us to do is the lighter uranium hexafluoride gas goes in the middle of the centrifuge, and the heavier uranium hexafluoride, which is the 238, because the ends of the edges of the centrifuges, and we could use this process in a series once again, to separate the lighter uranium 235 from the heavier uranium 238. Here's the problem. That's all sounds really, really good. But you mechanical engineering, a building a gas centrifuge is extremely, extremely complicated. And in fact, it was so complicated that even though the Manhattan Project try to build a uranium hexafluoride gas centrifuge, they actually abandoned it mid way in that program, because it's just too challenging. And in sort of an American way, we just decided our we're just going to do this sort of stupid big, really, really like the Hummer of uranium enrichment, we're just going to build the massive coal power plants at K 25. And we're just gonna basically feed in a huge amount of energy to basically build that uranium enrichment process. Now, there was a team at this time, that was working on a gas centrifuge and made a couple of very big innovations. Unfortunately, they were not on what we generally think of as the good side and World War Two. There, there was a Nazi nuclear weapons program and the Nazi uranium program. In Germany, of course, during World War Two, it wasn't a particularly advanced program. But one of the things that they actually did get very well, very good at is building gas centrifuges. And it turned out that they made a couple of major mechanical engineering breakthroughs during the Nazi period. And most importantly, in some ways, they had a really, really good group of scientists and engineers who were working on this problem. And unfortunately, well, depending on what your perspective, fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on if you're Russian or American, the Soviet forces got to that team before the American or British or French forces did. And that meant that the Soviets being entrepreneurial people well, not constantly, but in a communist sort of way, sort of kidnapped that team and kept them as prisoners of war and, and put them up in a very nice prison camp, I believe on the Black Sea. It was still a prison camp. But as you know, Gulags go was a pretty damn nice Gulag. And they were dedicated to basically build out a gas centrifuge program for the USSR, for the Soviets, for the communists, and they began making very serious technical innovations within this prison camp. And by the 1950s, by the early 1950s, we actually had some prototype gas centrifuges in the Soviet Union. And by about 1960 or 1961, we had commercial, so Soviet gas centrifuge programs, while the United States was building these massive, massive gaseous diffusion plants in in Paducah, Kentucky, and in Piketon, Ohio. And as well as the Europeans who are building this, we're also beginning to build a gaseous diffusion programs as well. So the Soviets began getting an edge in the uranium enrichment space. Now, at the time, actually, the United States and the West did not really appreciate how much ahead the Soviets were in gas centrifuge development, there wasn't very much trade at this point, especially in uranium between the United States and the West, and the USSR. In fact, actually, it's considered one of the largest intelligence failures in US history, that the extent and the advancement of the gas centrifuge program in the USSR was not established, basically was not understood until the eve of the collapse of the USSR, decades later. So we assumed and the Soviets built a very large gaseous diffusion plant, they love redundancy there, they were both building gaseous diffusion plants and gas centrifuge plants. But by the 60s and 70s, and 80s, they were more and more building out their gas centrifuge program, while the gaseous diffusion program was slowly being left for obsolescence. Now, one of these so one of these site German scientists, who had been sort of imprisoned a guy named xiP, basically was allowed after Stalin died in 1954, he was allowed to go back to the west, I mean, which is kind of crazy. Yeah, my opinion, you know, for good old Nikita to basically allow this guy to come back. And he did not apparently realize. So the apocryphal story goes, how much behind the West was until he was at a conference in Amsterdam, and then was recruited basically back to the University of Virginia in the United States to work on early prototypes of the gas centrifuge. And the Americans for whatever reason, and we can talk about this weren't particularly interested in zips work, although actually, we began a gas centrifuge program a couple of years later in the 1960s. So zip, went over to Europe, back into the Netherlands, and started building gas centrifuges for your renco. And that's began, we began seeing the first commercial gas centrifuges in Western Europe in the 1970s. But the Americans really weren't doing that they were keeping on operating their old, sort of gaseous diffusion plans. Now, there's a wrinkle in this story that we'll get to, but I want to pause there and sort of take a breather and see what what Yeah,
for sure. I mean, it is interesting, you know, my mind is going in all different kinds of places, but one of them is, you know, silver, cool studies on lifecycle emissions of nuclear and the ways in which I think, you know, accounting for gaseous diffusion can really increase the lifecycle carbon impacts of nuclear versus versus the centrifuge program, and you mentioned, you know, three massive for for massive coal plants for one diffusion plant in the US. What's the kind of energy requirement? How does that compare between gaseous diffusion sample?
Right, it's a great question, when, you know, I talked about this, this great kind of uranium facility in in France and check caston I believe is the Rhone Valley, very Verdun very beautiful, you know, I think their vineyard surrounding it, but they built as I said, four of these 900 megawatt electrical each reactors there at that to basically feed that gaseous diffusion facility, when they shut down that facility it was called Euro diff. When they shut down that facility, they replaced it with a gas centrifuge facility and that facility took three thout like roughly the entire output plus one reactor for redundancy, basically, of those three nuclear reactors running at full power to run that gaseous diffusion plant, where they replaced it with a slightly smaller but not very much smaller facility, that 3000 megawatt load dropped to 80 megawatts, right. So literally gas centrifugation is between 20 to 50 fold, less energy intention intensive per unit of enrichment, then gaseous diffusion is so this is beyond more than an order of magnitude more efficient, and therefore, the French got a couple 1000 megawatts so that's having free and they're still getting the same amount of enrichment Well, slightly less but you know, it's a really it just gives you an idea of how much dramatic that that that that that gas into how much dramatically more efficient gas centrifugation is gaseous. Okay,
another another random question. I think Mark Nelson posted on this but he was talking about the energy return on energy invested of it enriching uranium, do you do you have any idea what that is? Oh,
you know, I wish I actually do that exact number is very, very, very high, I can, I can probably do the math pretty quickly in my head, let me see if I can do this. Especially with with a gas centrifuge base program, the, you know, energy return on investment is almost certainly likely going to be on the order of 60 times to 70 times, right, when we're doing, you know, centrifuge base enrichment. Now, that's including actually, also including the energy that's needed for mining and milling for the conversion for the fuel fabrication for the construction of the plant, operational plant, decommissioning, fuel storage. So the idea, you know, I think the URI are the energy return on investment. So for listeners who don't know, this is how much energy you need to put into a nuclear power plant to the enrichment process to the mining, and how much energy you get back. And we say, well take the energy you got back, divided by the energy you put in, and that's your energy return on investment. And nuclear power, I think has one of the highest energy return on investment by a lot compared to almost any energy source. And we bumped it up a lot when we went to, from gaseous diffusion enrichment to gas centrifuge based enrichment. But to be honest, uranium enrichment, it's still Yes, a lot of power, but you're producing your that 3000 megawatts, or 2000 megawatts to that facility in France was I believe, is actually 2000 megawatts. That was, you know, basically powering all of France, right, roughly speaking. So even if it seems like a lot, 2000 megawatts, that's a lot. But now we have an 80 to 100 megawatt facility that's powering all of France for the enrichment stuff. So even though a restaurant takes maybe a lot of power, especially when using gaseous diffusion, compared to the amount of energy you're getting back out, it's just not comparable. Tell
me then about this. Because it seems important in terms of just quantifying, you know, how much separative work units and that's the term I want you to define? Well, we're going to need to replace dependence on Russian uranium in the US, for instance. So what what's the SWU? What's that referring to? Is it a unit of energy or
a unit, or a smooth as as you just call it? We call them SWU? But it's s Wu, and it stands for separative work units, it's a really complicated unit to understand. And because that's because the actual amount, you know, what we care about? Well, how much enrichment work does it take? To basically? How do we want to say, how much enrichment work does it take to get a pound of uranium and product or kilogram of uranium product, at the end at the enrichment level that we need? And it turns out, that's actually dependent on a couple of different factors, how many smood you need to get a kilogram of uranium, let's say at 4.95%. Uranium 235? Well, that's gonna be dependent on a couple of big input variables, right, the first input variable is going to be what the natural equal the feed assay is. So that's just natural uranium coming out of the ground, it's gonna be 0.711%. But it's also going to be depending on what we call the tails assay, which is basically the amount of uranium 235 That's left after the enrichment process is done, right? When we're enriching, right, we have some, you know, end uranium product that has a certain percentage of uranium 235, we have a tails assay, right, which gives the amount of waste uranium that is most of uranium 238, there's still a little bit of uranium 235, and depending on what those variables are, you know, really determines how much SWU you need. Now, generally, what we assume for smooth and I'm not going to define through this was actually mathematically very, very difficult to define. Right. But generally, the way that we think about this, the general numbers that we utilize, is we assume that we feed it with natural uranium at 0.7% uranium 235, right we have a tail we have a product assay of 4.95% uranium 235, so the upper end of what Lorraine lower enriched uranium is and we leave, but point two 3% uranium 235 in the tails, and that means that we need about eight smooth kilograms through or 8.1 the point to SWU per kilogram of uranium end product at 4.95%. And in order to get that one kilo of uranium 4.95% uranium 235, we need about 10 kilograms of natural uranium inputted in to the system.
Let's bring in lasers And megatons to megawatts as a bit of an explainer, again, of how the US has gotten to where it is now, where its enrichment capacity is insufficient to meet its needs. So let's
go back to the 1970s. So Zipp is out of the Soviet Union in the 50s. He's a member of his team that was building these gas centrifuges. He goes to the University of Virginia, right, he begins building some gas centrifuges, the US is sort of interested in this begins the gas centrifuge development program, zip goes back to Europe, and starts building up the Dutch, you know, sort of uranium, sort of gas centrifuge supply chains in the Netherlands. But we actually start building a gas centrifuge program here in the United States. And we begin the United States at that time, all enrichment services was created by a government owned Corporation. What if, for my US government, and listeners, what we call a goco. Right, which is a government owned contractor operated company, that the federal government, you know, in the Brits and the Canadians, we call that a Crown Corporation, but it is owned by the state and operated by a private company, and that company, little USAC, or United States enrichment Corporation, and they were the ones who were operating these facilities in Paducah and Piketon. And basically, they recognize the massive energy efficiency that gains that gas centrifuges had in enrichment over the gas, the massive gaseous diffusion plants we built in Paducah, and in Piketon. So what did they do? Well, they started building a gas centrifuge program called the G SAP or the gas centrifuge enrichment plant, outside of the old gaseous diffusion plant that was still operating in Ohio, right on those grounds and Piketon outside of Portsmouth, Ohio. And they literally start developing the American centrifuge, which was the largest at that time center gas centrifuge that had ever been built. And we started pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars into developing it, and building a massive, massive facility in in Ohio to basically build the first gas centrifuge enrichment plant. In fact, this has more, you know, it's a larger facility by roof area than the Pentagon is just to give you an idea of what how big we built this. And we, we began prototyping this large gas centrifuge out. And then we began building 1000s of these massive centrifuges. They're 50 feet tall, and fulfilling them up in this building in Ohio. In fact, we build I believe, close to 1500 of them, and billions of dollars building a plant to do it. But in the mid 1980s, a newer technology started attracting the attention of, you know, the government bureaucrats at USAC and of the nuclear industry itself, and said, rather than using this gas centrifuge technology, yeah, we've done it. It's, you know, we got some perfected, you know, the Europeans are starting to use it, the Russians, unbeknownst to them are really using it. Why don't we use lasers to enrich uranium, and the so they abandoned in the early 1980s, this massive facility, which we had spent close to $7 billion on developing the technology, building this plant and literally building over 1000 centrifuges, and actually running them in test and demonstration cascades. Why don't we abandon that facility and go to a different technology called atomic vapor laser isotope separation or Atlas, right? And that's because Atlas is really goddamn cool. It's not necessarily though commercially that much better. And we should talk about how atomic vapor laser isotope separation works. Because it doesn't exploit the mass difference between uranium it does something much as a physics sky, much, much more cooler than that to basically separate that out if we want to go into that very,
if you can do it, you can do it really briefly. Yeah, let's hit it,
it's gonna be really hard to do this out if it doesn't work. So remember, when I was saying that, you know, the electrons that surround the nuclei, right are basically identical between different isotopes. That is really almost true. But there's one very, very subtle impact that's actually going on and it's a quantum mechanical property called hyperfine coupling. What that means is that the nuclei itself has a magnetic field and some electrical field that's associated with it and that magnetic field and electrical field influence influences the electrons that are surrounding that nuclei. Okay. And that means very, we have very, very subtle what are called high hyperfine shifts in the excitation frequencies of the energy levels of the surrounding electrons that are going. So if you have a very, very, very precise laser, an incredibly narrow laser that is only putting out light at the most purest color, you can selectively excite uranium 235 atoms over uranium 238 atoms. So in the Atlas program, what we do is we vaporize pure uranium not uranium hexafluoride, we reached it to a really, really high temperature, we pick a gas stream of gaseous uranium, we boil the uranium, gasify it, and then radiate it with this highly, highly precise, very finely tuned Yeray laser light, and we selectively photo ionize, the 235 atoms over the 238 that actually might be the reverse. A lot of these details are classified, you might be selectively ionizing uranium 238 and separating it and so then that becomes negatively charged, right. So if you photo ionized you inject an electron what you do here, as you kick it with a photon of laser light is so precisely tuned, it brings an electron so high to a such a high energy level, it escapes the sort of pull of the nuclei and objects out. So all of a sudden, rather than having 92 protons and 92 electrons, you have 92 protons, and 91 electrons, and all of a sudden that uranium atom is, is positively charged right as a net charge on it. And then utilizing a magnetic field, you can essentially separate the charge gases, the charge uranium atoms away from the uncharged unexcited atoms, and that's really goddamn good. Yeah, yeah, right. You're using quantum mechanics, you're using super powerful super precise lasers, you are boiling uranium and gasifying. It Right. These are using basically like a essentially a magnetic field or an electrical field to separate the selectively photo ionized uranium atoms to enrich uranium. That's a hell of a lot cooler than spinning gas really, really goddamn fast. And nuclear engineers and I think we've talked about some times and the nuclear industry itself likes to get distracted by really shiny, really cool physics problems that don't necessarily have that many commercial applications and superiority. Now, some will argue there are some commercial advantages to laser isotope separation, there probably are. So the United States Government though seeing this technology and seeing some prototype cascades or demo projects of of laser isotope separation out in the national labs says we'll just sort of stop that gas centrifuge enrichment program out in Ohio, we kind of abandon that program will start dumping billions of dollars into r&d to basically make atomic vapor laser isotope separation work. Now, for a variety of reasons, the technical challenges associated with doing this surprise, surprise, were a little bit more complicated than we initially anticipated when that decision was made. And we really never got Atlas, even today into a commercial development phase. Now, I want to be clear, there is global laser enrichment. And there's a company called Silex, which is now an Australian company that actually has perfected a different laser isotope separation technique. That's molecular vapor rather than atomic vapor laser isotope separation that actually uses uranium hexafluoride to do late to use lasers to selectively separate I enrich, but I need to be clear that the the avillez program, which is different from that silence, probably never came to commercial maturity. And so we sort of abandon that plant, that gas centrifuge plant that we're building in Ohio, we buried those 1500 centrifuges in the desert. And we just kept on using gaseous diffusion, to basically enrich the fleet over and over again. Now, what happens is the late 1980s come and go, Atlas is still in the national labs. It's still trying to commercialize it. And then all of a sudden, in 1991, Soviet Union collapses, and it's no longer the Soviet Union's the Russian Federation and the other constituent republics. And there's two things going on in the Soviet Union or the former Soviet Union has been first of all, the Soviet taxpayers have spent a lot of money building a massive, massive gas centrifuge complex. Mo and multiple different enrichment facilities was much larger than what the Russian nuclear power Our fleet needed each year to, to facilitate to basically refuel. And the Russians, all of a sudden had a massive stockpile of highly enriched uranium that could hypothetically utilize be utilized in a bomb, just already enriched, hanging out, sort of waiting for something to be done with it. And these two issues and now all of a sudden, Russia is no longer the West immortal enemy. We are basically our friends via their end of history, Francis Fukuyama writes that famous essay, we have this issue. And now all of a sudden, Russians are also in a massive economic sort of recession, and really a depression, post the Soviet collapse, there's a lot of concern about the security of these facilities that are storing highly enriched uranium. And so we do two things. The first thing is the Russian companies that took over the state owned enterprises that owned these enrichment facilities, all of a sudden say, Hey, you guys need enriched uranium, you guys in America and the West, and in other countries, you guys needed enriched uranium, we had a really big centrifuge facilities that hey, by the way, you know, Soviet taxpayers kind of communism, we pay for all the capital costs, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than running your gas diffusion plants. Why don't we sell it to you, and begin actually selling Russian uranium will get at a much, much lower price pursue, then you guys can do out of your gaseous diffusion plants. And then simultaneously, nonproliferation experts and nuclear engineering experts recognizing this massive stockpile of highly enriched uranium, and they want to do something with it, they don't want rogue actors to get, you know, hold of it, they want to basically start, you know, buying that highly enriched uranium and using it in the existing nuclear power fleet. So we begin a program called megatons to megawatts. And the idea of that is we're going to take that highly enriched uranium that is produced that sort of sitting around in these various facilities in Russia, and also in the former Soviet states, and we're gonna down blend it that is taken, it might be up to 90% uranium 235, we're going to take depleted uranium 238, or natural uranium down, blend it back down to four or 5%. Uranium 235, what we use in civilian reactors, and ship it over to a fuel fabricator to make it into pellets that can go into a uranium, a nuclear power plant reactor. And this program begins in earnest in the late 90s. And at the peak of its program, 50% of the nuclear fuel in the United States was bid was down blended Repp weapons grade, highly enriched uranium from Russia. So that means 10%, for the mid 2000s 10% of the electric power in the United States, was basically old Soviet weapons grade uranium that was keeping the lights on here in the United States. I mean, and what that is, it's
kind of an inspiring story. I mean, it's the ultimate Swords to Plowshares, but obviously, it had some geopolitical implications, which I guess we'll get into. But but,
you know, I think it's easy to think that, you know, one of the things that we're not doing at this time is building our gas centrifuge class, we're not replacing the gas diffusion plants. In fact, the gaseous diffusion plants in both Portsmouth and in Paducah, in Kentucky and Ohio, keep on running through the 90s. And first we shut down the facility in Ohio in 2001, which was still a gaseous diffusion plant, the port Portsmouth gas, gaseous diffusion and enrichment plant. We shut that down. And then, in 2013, we shut down the Paducah plant, and that's because megatons to megawatts, no megatons to megawatts. They just can't compete with a gas centrifuge base, new enrichment programs because they had to spend a massive amount of power, money, excuse me buying these 1000s of megawatts and each one of these plants required to enrich uranium, whereas the dainty sort of gas centrifuges were literally taking 20 to 50 times less power per unit in Richmond. So I, you know, I want to stand up for megatons to megawatts here because here's what happens in 1991 1992. We did not have any alternative program in the United States to enrich uranium but gaseous diffusion, we need to build a gas centrifuge program, that those assets were already on economical. And what what megatons to megawatts should have done is given us a nice breather, you know, we're gonna down blend this Russian uranium. We're gonna build our placement technology to replace it once you know there's an infinite amount, even the Soviets in their sort of, you know, uranium, highly enriched uranium, giga mania did not build in a massive an infinite amount we were we knew we're going to run out of it by 2013 2014, that would be the end of the program. So we actually had a nice, you know, two decade long gap to not rush to sort of be slow and build the right facilities up. But another factor starts happening here at this point, which is that remember when I said the United States in Richmond Corporation, was a goco, government owned, you know, contractor operated facility, well in them in the peak of what I like to call neoliberal brain, fuck, right, you know, of the 1990s, we had this real idea that always a private owned enterprise is going to be better than state owned enterprise. And we also had the Clinton administration who is trying to balance their budget with the Republicans in Congress, and they need some they need a couple billion bucks to do this. So the Clinton administration decided to privatize the United States enrichment Corporation, basically, literally take USEK IPO it literally introduce it onto the the US the New York Stock Exchange, and sell that company to the private market. So we privatized in the late 1990s, the United States enrichment Corporation, which was operating these own economical gas and gaseous diffusion based enrichment plants. And we made a couple billion bucks, actually, the US government made a couple billion bucks by selling it on the market. And a lot some people, a lot of democratic economists and Republican economists were very in favor of this Congress passed a law called the USEK privatization Act. Now there's a couple of fringe academics, including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who generally oppose this idea said that some things like uranium enrichment should be kind of controlled by the state and should not be necessarily subject to the whims of the market. And Joe Stiglitz was sort of ignored, as were some other folks. And we went forward, Congressman forward, President Clinton signed the USEK privatization act, and USEK was no longer government owned corporation. So what happens now? Well, remember that that American centrifuge, that American centrifuge that was going on in the 70s, and 80s, right, that we built 1500 of we put this massive facility in Ohio, all of a sudden, you know, USAC, has been spending billions of dollars trying to develop various laser isotope Separation Techniques. And they kind of failed. They can't commercialize them. So all of a sudden, they go back, and they recognize, hey, we have a centrifuge technology. Let's start redeveloping the centrifuge technology, build out a supply chain, and start filling that facility out in Ohio employ hundreds of workers out in Ohio, to basically make the American centrifuge plant the ACP. And they begin doing this, they apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a combined construction operating license to build a facility, the NRC and you know, you are to grants that license and says, Hey, we're gonna build you about a 3.8 million SWU facility, grant your license to do that, that's more than we import each year from Russia, in the amount of the amount of enrichment services. So had that facility actually come online, we would not need to depend on Russia today. But a couple of things happen. First thing in 2008 global financial crisis happens. And all of a sudden, USAC, which is now a private company listed on the New York Stock Exchange needs to go into the debt markets to basically finance the building of that facility. At the same time, they're gonna go to the loan programs office work now jigger offers, and they're going to use a $2 billion loan guarantee to be able to build that facility. The loans Program Office denies that application, which means that the $2 billion of loans that they need to do all of a sudden are not financing able to basically build and finish that facility even though they've already spent a couple billion dollars actually building that facility up building supply chains to build the 1000s of centrifuges that need to go into that facility. So that means that all of a sudden in the gap that the American centrifuge plant is demobilize, and they're looking for alternative funding. Then 2011 rounds around and the Fukushima Daiichi accident occurs and the global price for separative work and for the smooth plummets. So all of a sudden people like there's no commercial market for this product. If you can't get any financing, and basically the product completely deemed the project completely demobilize,
and to what to what degree did the German and sort of the Japanese kind of as quickly as possible shut off all their nuclear plants, the Germans began a pretty crash phase that I understand there was some other politically motivated and maybe economically motivated closures due to cheap nat gas in the US to what degree did that take out demand for enriched fuel? And is that part of this?
I think it's got a huge amount of demand, not actually that huge. I mean, the Japanese were pretty large Trump that went on, we're starting to see shutdowns. In, you know, the us a little bit and obviously, Germany, a much larger extent. I don't think it's, I mean, we saw the price of separative work on the spot price just drop really dramatically. But I think more psychologically, what what's going on is that there was a belief in this time, that's kind of the end of nuclear, right, or that nuclear power is not gonna be a growth sector. And hey, we have still this cheap Russian SWU. And especially in 2011 2012, we were kind of tried to repair relationships with Russia, at this time, the great in the US, the Obama administration was trying to do the reset with Russia, and coupled with the fact that we didn't see a growth in nuclear power, we saw a lot of shutdown, it's gonna be really hard to suddenly motivate, you know, to motivate, essentially, investors to put up that debt financing, especially when there's not an LPO guarantee of that debt. So all of a sudden, what happens is the Department of Energy decides to basically say, you know, why don't you just build me 160 centrifuges do some commercial demonstration, the US government will put up a couple 100 million dollars, you'll put up about $80 million, you sack and build me a couple of demos, you know, 100 square foot commercial cascade, plus some spares of the centrifuges to demonstrate how well it works, actually, this technology that you're sort of rehabilitating for the 1970s and 1980s. And they do this, they build 160 centrifuges and run it in a cascade and demonstrate and accumulate a couple of million man hours. machine hours, excuse me a demo time on these machines. But then 2015 And 2016 comes around united. In the meantime, this company you set goes through bankruptcy, it now no longer has any actual enrichment capability, because Paducah Kentucky shuts down. Ohio has already been shut down since 2001. The only thing it does is it basically works as a broker to sell Russian uranium to US nuclear power utilities. And this facility also that we built 160 centrifuges, three quarters of which was paid for by the Department of Energy. All of a sudden, there's no more DoD money coming down. They built this. The centrifuges they've operated there's no commercial market for it's not big enough, you know, that's not enough centrifuges to make a commercially viable plan. And they decided to decommission and decontaminate that piping facility. So they take out all those centrifuges and bury them out in the desert, again, in in the West. So now we have this massive facility in Piketon Ohio, that is just you can see, you know, we built this big report for this. And there was a big New York Times front page story, and featured our report. That was that actually, the reporter's Max Berek went out to Piketon and toured this facility, which is just massive, and you see the holes in the ground in the floor where the centrifuges get placed. And there's just 3800, if I'm remembering correctly, holes in the in the ground where all these centrifuges are supposed to go. And we had 160. And they got buried in the desert after we had buried a couple, you know, over 1000, you know, a couple of decades early. Now.
Sorry, you don't I mean, we do need to get to, hey, we do need to get the halo. Right. But I also just want I mean, what you're talking about is so reminiscent of the themes we've been exploring in terms of nuclear construction and tombs, in terms of the kind of industrial ADHD of the American nuclear sector. And, you know, I'm biased in terms of, you know, a bit of a warm spot towards some degree of central planning of national strategy, whether it's industrial policy or you know, very vital industries like uranium enrichment. You know, we're finding ourselves in a current conundrum where vulnerable or in Canada we're not but I'll generously say we to include the USA here are in a real predicament and you know, there's there's a potential for reputational damage nuclear is should be kind of the ultimate energy security play and there's a real risk of of again, not just reputational damage but And I don't know what the light is going out, but it's a big deal. And we just seem to be politically unequipped to, to meet that challenge and just do a little bit of planning.
So this is a multi decade long failure of which, you know, the US taxpayer has spent billions of dollars ostensibly on defending, I'm trying to solve this problem, and we just never got anywhere. And to your exact point, you know, what worries me the most is right now in the United States, right, you are not allowed to import Russian coal, you're not allowed to import Russian oil or Russian refined products, you're not allowed to import Russian natural gas. You know, maybe you're allowed to import Russian wood. I haven't looked at that. But that's a lot of the energy in the world, right? There's one exception to here. We're importing a hell of a lot of Russian uranium and Russian enriched uranium. More importantly, Russia does actually mine some uranium too. And about 12% of the uranium that we get, forget about the enrichment services come from Russian mines, which is completely unacceptable, because you guys in Canada, and our friends in Australia have plenty of uranium right to mine. But regardless, the real problem is, we don't have the enrichment services. So right now, nuclear power, I want to say kind of tragically, and ironically, is the energy source that the United States is most dependent on Russia for? And as you just said, one of the selling points of nuclear power should be its energy independence. Hey, man, you know, Canada has the world's largest Uranium reserves. And we really liked the Canadians. I don't know how much you guys like us. We like you guys, when we think about you. And then and then the Australians we also really like, right, and they have the third largest uranium proven Uranium reserves. So we have a really good energy security situation. Uranium is really tiny, in terms of enrichment. And this is a facility. This is a factory that we need to build in the United States. And we have one in New Mexico, right? That the that the that that British Dutch German company, your renco put together and it's operating on 5.4 million SWU. We had the NRC not only licensed the American centrifuge plant in Ohio, David a full CLL This is not the NRC is fault. The NRC basically did his job said here, here's a license, build and operate the plant. The NRC licensed multiple other sites to build massive new enrichment facilities. In high in Idaho. We licensed what was then called a Riva, which would now be orano, the French company to build a really, really large centrifuge based enrichment facility out in in Idaho. In North Carolina, in Wilmington, North Carolina, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave a license to a to GE Hitachi, which at that point was the majority owner of global laser enrichment along with Silex, to build a laser based enrichment facility out in Wilmington, the NRC built a facility gave a license to that facility that is operating in your enco that you're Uncasville in New Mexico to basically make 10 million SWU even though it's only operating at 5.4 million, so So the NRC has like given given out license after license and said basically, you like for an NRC perspective, guys go build, build and operate. And any one of those facilities came online to their licensed capacity today, we would not be we would not be dependent in Russia for any enrichment services. Because we take around a couple, three to 4 million, let's say roughly Sue, each year from Russia, each one of those facilities is bigger than three millions
will. Right, right. From what I understand, you know, if, if, if a Russian enriched uranium was sanctioned investment, private investment in the sector would be difficult because of the relative and uncompetitive Enos of you know, the capital investments to get these plants going. And if those sanctions came down, and Russian uranium were to flood the market, again, all that investment could be lost. So there is probably a mechanism again, for some degree of governments central planning to, you know, make that a lower risk proposition for private companies to go in and talk
about this, but I think we want to go back yes, you're totally right about the Russians. There's a real real we don't want to right now sanction Russian enrich uranium we want to, but it's gonna be really hard to because the whole thing is that we don't have the enrichment capacity globally right now to basically absorb a complete in the Western world. In you know, in Europe and and the United States does not have enough enrichment capacity elsewhere, to really be able to survive that building a lot more enrichment capacity, we do not have the ability right now to basically fuel our plants without adding new capacity. Right. So what we want to do is we want to not be in a situation where we've cut off ourselves from Russian supply. And we don't have the enrichment capacity online operating. You know, I know this is a crazy idea, but nuclear projects sometimes get delayed in construction, right? So we don't want to be in this situation where we've already cut off our supply and where we encountered delay in building that enrichment plant, and not getting it online. So what do you want? What do you do? Well, as you just said, the big concern, if you're an investor in this is that you're going to build this plants and billions of dollars building a massive new enrichment facility, and two things are gonna happen, one thing could happen, we could suddenly become friends with Russia again, and Russian SWU comes back in the market and floods it, it makes it completely on economical, or you have enough people starting to build more enrichment capacity up that you start basically getting a race to the bottom in the price of separative work units, even among the non Russian players. And right now, the only people who have really risen to the challenge and started building a huge amount of new separative work capacity is the French at that facility and Ty caston, where they're building a couple of million more slew of a centrifuge plant, the only thing the United States has been committed to the US company in your renco has been 750,000 separative work units, right. And we import between three to 4 million separative work units each year from from Russia. So that's not enough for the US to get off. So what do you do about this problem? How do we encourage private investment given that we're not in the United States, at least renationalising USAC or centrist as it's now known? What do we do? Well, there's a really basic program that we have, well, we could first of all, we could renationalized, we could basically give price support or do something called like an advanced market commitment, or an off take agreement, where we say, Hey, if you build this, the United States government, if you can't find a buyer, we'll guarantee to basically buy the separative work units for a given period of time, at a get guaranteed minimum floor price, which would basically be able to guarantee that if you build that, that facility, there'll be a market for it, and the investors will know that they'll be able to basically recoup their investment they built in the facility. And that sort of price support program is utilized in the United States all the time. We like to think of ourselves as a super capitalistic society, and we are, but think about the price of milk. Every two weeks, the United States Department of Agriculture, right puts out a price, a minimum price for class one fluid milk, where they basically say the United States Government at will buy at this price, basically an unlimited quantity of milk. Basically, if for this guaranteed price, what that basically means is, that's the minimum price that liquid milk can ever get go out. Because if they ever, if anyone tries to ever sell it for below, they'll just sell it to the USG right, and it's very similar program of price supports, right that are using all sorts of different agricultural commodities, in addition to milk is all we really need to ensure that we mobilize enough private capital, right to basically ensure that investors will basically mobilize the capital and recoup their investment on these products. So there's other ways of doing this, you could make a uranium fuel bank, and basically say we'll committing to basically buy 10 years worth of fuel, right? Uranium is incredibly dense. So you could literally fuel you know, have the entire United States worth of uranium fuel and a couple parking lots basically worth of hexafluoride cylinders. There's a huge number of policy, you know, options that we have to solve around that problem that you just identified. Chris. The problem that we have right now is that the United States government and our Department of Energy, despite it being nearly two years after the Ukrainian invasion, has not elucidated a clear roadmap of how we are going to get ourselves out of our dependence on Russia, and neither has the nuclear industry on the other side. So right now, it looks like we're just sort of planning on relying on Russia for the foreseeable future. Once again, the only, you know, commitments to new capacity that has been put down, it's about 750,000 or 700,000, separative work units in New Mexico, that is way, way less than how much we take from Russia each year. And
you know, rather than really hearing about solutions to this very pragmatic problem, what I maybe I'm misinformed, what I hear a lot about is excitement about, you know, adding separative work units to make a loop for the next generation of US nuclear reactors. That seems like you're not reading the room here, or I think we were coming up with some kind of a culinary or catering metaphor, you might remember better than I do, but but it seems, you know,
I think we serve it's like, you know, serving caviar to during a food shortage or something.
Maybe that was, I don't know, refugee camp or something. Who knows? Yeah.
One of the as I was mentioning before, right, current US lightwater reactors actually the Global Light Water Reactor fleet right now, basically, the high the the level of enrichment we call the fuel that we put into low enriched uranium, low enriched uranium is defined as up to 4.95% uranium 235. Now, a lot of advanced reactors like sodium cooled reactors are studying fast breeder reactors, or some even of these micro reactors, they require a lot higher assay concentration of uranium 235, right, they require what's called Hey, Lu, or high assay, low enriched uranium. And that's why they go up to 4.95%. Uranium 235, because it's a 19.75%. Uranium 235 is what Halo is. The problem is right now, in the United States, and around the world, there's only one major commercial supplier of Halo that's once again, our friends in Russia. And so the basic problem that we have is a lot of advanced reactor. You know, manufacturers are rightly saying, Hey, I'm building a reactor right now, but forget about dependent for a lot of it on Russia, there's basically only one shop in town right now who can basically make my fuel matters Russia. And so therefore, the US government has rightly seen, by the way, this is not wrong, as if we have to get a domestic Halo supply chain spun up. But here's the problem, no operating commercial nuclear power plant in the United States right now uses or needs a lot of fuel. And so we have spent a huge amount of talk. And when I hear the DOD, they're talking all about Halo, but they're sort of ignoring the pink elephant in the room, which is the low enriched uranium is actually used to make 20% or 19% of the United States power every single year that we currently require. A quarter to a third of it comes from Russia. And we don't have a clear roadmap of that. And there's some really interesting things about the way that actually uranium enrichment works, which means that the halo problems a lot smaller than the Leu problem. We can go into that if you're interested.
No, absolutely. Because from what I understand, the feedstock for Hey, Lu is low enriched uranium. So tell me about that. How, how intensive is how much LTE you do, you need to make H A L. So let's
imagine that you're taking a kilogram you want a kilogram of uranium of Halo at 19.75% uranium 235? Well, as you just said, what you do is you basically spin up uranium, you spin up uranium hexafluoride, and your normal centrifuge cascades, and you get four, you get Leu out of that at 4.95% uranium 235. Next, you feed that Leu uranium hexafluoride into his further series of centrifuges. If you're using that technology to enrich it up to the halo assays, you take that 4.95% uranium 235 feed, you run it through your halo cascade to bring it up to 19.75% uranium 235. But here's the thing, and you can understand this kind of intuitively, right? When we're, you know, basically putting out you know, when we're trying to find that uranium 235 at the natural uranium level, it's pretty rare. It's about one in 140 150 Atoms are uranium 235, you think about like m&ms, right? You know, if you have one in 150 m&ms are red m&ms and the rest are green fees, a lot of work to find a red m&m, but all of a sudden, if one out of every 20 m&ms are red m&ms, right, it's much easier, right and that's the same thing with the separative work that you need to go from that Leu feed to your HALO, right to take that Leu feed, it takes about 36 separative work units, right to make that Leu feed, right, it only takes around five or six further separative work units or SWU to take that that Leu feed and put it convert it into Halo at 19.75%. So the actual amount of new separative work unit capacity we need to make Halo is very very tiny compared to the amount that we need to make the Leu that fuels the nuclear reactors that operate today as well as makes the Leu feed for the halo feed. So we're kind of focusing on a tiny niche luxury product that is not being used. That's essential, right for new React. You don't want new reactor development, but it's not the major problem that we face today. Okay,
so maybe it's like handing out Dior handbags in a refugee camp to take the flower and I'll leave that aside. But that's almost a good story that it takes off of so few spoons to get from Leu to Halo, but how much Leu is required to make Halo like it seems like you need quite a bit of it. And I'm not sure if you can go like kilo to kilo likes to take 10 kilos that allow you to make one kilo of Halo or how does that work?
I was just going to pull up the actual numbers.
Oh my god, I found something James chrome see doesn't off the top of his head. Oh, no, I
just don't know the math. I have it in the report. I just don't the math off by shame.
Shame on you, James. Shame on Yeah, exactly.
And I'm blanking on it. I don't want to be yelled at by Bret Rand Paul on Twitter about getting this. This was incorrect. Right. Hold on second. Let me just get these exact numbers. I should have had this up. Right. So but that exactly that exact question. So let's think about we want to make a kilogram, we want to make a kilogram. Okay. Chris, of 19.75% uranium 235, right. So how much natural uranium do we need to start with? Well, we need to start with 41 kilograms of natural uranium, we need to put that through our Leu enrichment process and spend 35 SWU, to basically make 4.5 kilograms of low enriched uranium at 4.95%. And we further need to take that 4.5 kilograms and put just six SWU of separative work in our cascade to make one kilogram of Halo at 19.75%. Your aim to 35. So once again, of the 41 separative work units, you need to make that one kilo of Halo 35 of those who are just to make the Leu feed that we need for everything for regular old fashioned lightwater reactors that I love. And we only need about six more of this advanced luxury Hey, Lu cascade to take that le you feed in to make you into Halo. And one of the things that I'll just be honest, annoys me so much about the Department of Energy, when they're talking about that is like they're talking about just meaning the halo demands. But even if we just care about Halo, forget about anything else, most of the slew that we need to build is to make the Leu feed, we're ignoring the actual most the bulk of the uranium enrichment capacity that we need. And that just doesn't make any sense. And what I see where I'm sitting today is that the United States does not have a pathway to get off of Russian dependence. We're hooked on our Russian supply. And that's really bad. We as an industry, and as a government need to figure this out. Because it's ironic that we're spending a billion dollars roughly each year on Russian uranium products. While we're spending 10s of billions of dollars sending weapons over to Ukraine to basically do this. We're sending writing checks to the same company, Rosatom that makes Russia's nuclear weapons. And this is a fully solvable problem, and we're in choosing not to solve it.
And the company that runs the occupied Well, I guess that preacher is not running right now. But that occupies it and operates, the opera operates the non operating nuclear plant that they've taken over anyway. Yeah, I think that's a great place. That's a great place to leave it as poignant. I mean, on the one hand, and I don't want to minimize that this is such a problem, but $1 billion, ain't much compared to what the Germans or the the EU nations that were using Russian gas were giving to Gazprom. No, no, no, it's
really tiny. It's chump change. But it doesn't really make a big difference in the Russian economy in any way. It's more of the leverage that Russia has over us, I think yeah,
yeah. Well, they've they've never used the idea of the United States can't fucking
build like a fucking your gas centrifuge plant like, we just need to build it by the Europeans once
they make for great landfill and heard.
A lot of uses go out to the desert and unburied pressure, millions of dollars that the US government has burned over the last three decades on this problem, like it's just mind boggling the number of centrifuges that are in the desert, right, and we probably put them all together, we would be a much better place than we are. I you know,
James, just on that last point, like, they couldn't have just mothballed them and just left them in the factory. The
problem was, is that what's the profit center is It was going bankrupt. They didn't want to have to keep their NRC license for these contaminated facilities. They wanted to decommission the facility completely and get to a lesser or security state. And that's epic. Centris was like literally with $30 million as a company, right? Like it went bankrupt. The stock price crashed, it really was in trouble. So and I guess the problem with not having a state owned enterprise,
yeah, yeah. Well, all right. Yeah. We'll leave it on that. On that final note, James, a pleasure. I've learned a huge amount. And sincerely thank you for being such a resource to myself and to the community at large. We will post a link to the study that you mentioned was featured in the front page of The New York Times. No big deal.
Yeah. Listen to it back. I was not as clear as I could have been. I don't know. We're
not done yet. So James, thank you. And we'll see you see on our next episode, and we're leaving the bloopers in man