More jobs on deck for UUSA Eunice plant
EUNICE – Almost 50 new jobs will be opening up soon at UrencoUSA’s uranium processing facility in Lea County, that according to information presented at the regular Eunice Chamber of Commerce Breakfast on Wednesday.
Karen Fili, president and CEO for UUSA’s Louisiana Energy Services LLC plant near Eunice, told Chamber members of ongoing expansion plans for the local facility.
Originally licensed more than a decade ago for 10 separation work units — a measure of production at the facility — the plant currently produces just 4.6 SWUs, with plans to add an additional production capacity in the near future, Fili said.
“Urenco is the only large-scale uranium enrichment plant in North America,” Fili told the group. “We still have room to grow.”
When asked what happens at the UUSA plant in Eunice, Fili said she tells people “we spin dirt. We spin uranium. That’s all we do. We enrich uranium.”
The facility essentially takes raw uranium ore and processes it into fuel pellets, she explained. The pellets are then assembled into fuel rods — massive assemblies of hollow tubes filled with the small fuel pellets — that are then transported to nuclear reactor facilities to generate electrical energy.
New technology, in part, is driving the expansion at the enrichment plant, she said.
As Small Modular Reactors — smaller in size than more traditional fission reactors currently in use — become more prevalent, UUSA will be adding the machinery and capacity to provide the more highly enriched uranium to fuel them, Fili said.
SMRs require a more concentrated form of uranium fuel to produce heat used to generate energy, she said. Current reactors need, and UUSA supplies, fuel rods with uranium enriched to 5.5 percent. Fuel for SMRs needs to be enriched to as much as 20 percent concentration of uranium, Fili said.
“In nine to 12 months, we’ll be able to provide the higher-enriched uranium to our customers who need it,” Fili said. “The technology (in the facility expansion) will be the same, but it needs new safety and security (upgrades) for the health and safety of the public. We’re working on that as well.”
And the upgrades extend beyond the local plant to maintaining energy security for the country, she said.
For example, within two days of Russian troops invading Ukraine in February 2022, Urenco’s European management was cancelling all its contracts with Russia, Fili said.
“Nuclear is clean energy,” she said. “Our nation needs clean, safe energy to flourish. We don’t want to rely on Russia.
The company’s third priority is sustainability, both locally and company-wide, Fili said.
The 40-plus members of the management and administration team at the local UUSA plant are local employees with the exception of one member who was brought in from outside southeast New Mexico.
“We’re growing our own people,” she said. “We’re developing our own.
“Our goal is to hire locally and train. We’re here to stay. We’re committed to run that facility safely, to provide jobs and to expand for the energy sector in the United States.”