The only domestic U.S. uranium-enrichment company on Monday said it plans to seek bankruptcy within months, the New York Times reports.
The company, USEC, still plans by 2017 to wrap up development of a new-generation enrichment centrifuge. However, its latest financial move could complicate efforts to secure federal funding for the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio, beyond $257 million in Energy Department grants awarded since 2011, according to the newspaper.
Control of the centrifuge project might go to the Energy Department as a result of the bankruptcy. It is unclear, though, if Washington would push the enrichment initiative forward to completion, the Times reported. The effort is already 12 years behind schedule, and its projected $6.5 billion expense is nearly four times greater than its original $1.7 billion cost estimate.
Still, the United States might continue advancing the effort to help ensure a secure supply of tritium, a hydrogen isotope critical for boosting the explosive power of U.S. nuclear weapons. The material decays at a regular rate, meaning that more must be continually harvested from fuel rods in Tennessee Valley Authority power reactors if warheads are to be maintained.
The Obama administration and some U.S. lawmakers have said that under international agreements, the United States can use only uranium refined with its own technology as a source of tritium. Several analysts have contested that view, though, arguing that the United States could extract tritium from uranium enriched within its borders using European-origin equipment.