Uranium Enrichment:

DOE Needs to Pursue Alternative AVLIS Deployment Options

RCED-91-88: Published: Aug 8, 1991. Publicly Released: Aug 8, 1991.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) demonstration and deployment of the atomic vapor laser isotope separation (AVLIS) program and the building of an AVLIS plant, focusing on technical, program, and economic issues.

GAO found that: (1) independent experts believe that the AVLIS demonstration program will be successful, but the program will not provide the specific cost information needed for a complete evaluation of deployment by the end of 1992 due to unresolved technical issues; (2) by November 1992, DOE will not have fully demonstrated the processes needed to effectively integrate AVLIS into the existing nuclear fuel cycle; (3) such program activities as plant licensing and site selection and preparation will delay AVLIS plant construction beyond 1993; (4) DOE stopped most AVLIS program activities for fiscal year (FY) 1992 in anticipation of the formation of a government corporation to complete such activities, but DOE has not developed any contingency plan for deploying the AVLIS technology should a government corporation not be formed; (5) an updated and expanded uranium enrichment market analysis is needed before any decision is made about building an AVLIS plant; and (6) DOE stopped a planned program that was to obtain private companies' expertise in deploying a commercial plant.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Energy Policy Act of 1992 transferred the right to develop AVLIS to a newly created government uranium enrichment corporation.

    Matter: As Congress considers proposed legislation that would restructure the DOE uranium enrichment program as a government corporation, it could also consider transferring responsibility for AVLIS to the new corporation. This would require the new corporation to convince private financiers to invest in AVLIS and could reduce the government's financial risk. It would also help ensure that the decision on building an AVLIS plant is based on commercial concerns.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Energy Policy Act transferred responsibility for AVLIS to a new government uranium enrichment corporation. The chairman of the new corporation, who will be named in July 1993, will decide if and how the corporation will pursue further AVLIS demonstration activities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should update the AVLIS demonstration plan to realistically reflect revised program goals and remaining technical development work. The plan should also provide for an independent cost analysis and allow and promote private industry's access and participation in the development program to enhance future deployment options. Finally, the updated plan should identify other deployment options should a government corporation not be established. In particular, DOE should examine options encouraged by the National Competitiveness Technology Transfer Act of 1989.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Energy Policy Act transferred responsibility for AVLIS to a new government enrichment corporation; however, the corporation can not spend any federal money building an AVLIS plant. The new corporation will need to convince potential private investors to build a new AVLIS plant.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should include a market analysis in the revised AVLIS demonstration plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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