General Electric has successfully tested laser enrichment for two years and is seeking federal permission to build a $1 billion plant that would make reactor fuel by the ton.
General Electric, an atomic pioneer and one of the world’s largest companies, says its initial success began in July 2009 at a facility just north of Wilmington, N.C., that is jointly owned with Hitachi. It is impossible to independently verify that claim because the federal government has classified the laser technology as top secret. But G.E. officials say that the achievement is genuine and that they are accelerating plans for a larger complex at the Wilmington site.
“We are currently optimizing the design,” Christopher J. Monetta, president of Global Laser Enrichment, a subsidiary of G.E. and Hitachi, said in an interview.
Donald M. Kerr, a former director of the Los Alamos weapons lab who was recently briefed on G.E.’s advance, said in an interview that it looked like a breakthrough after decades of exaggerated claims.