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French firm wins license for Idaho uranium plant

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — France's state-owned nuclear reactor builder on Wednesday won a U.S. license to build and operate a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant in Idaho, a key step in the company's plans to expand production of nuclear fuel in the United States.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission's license for the $3 billion Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility authorizes Areva SA to enrich uranium for use in the manufacture of nuclear fuel for commercial power reactors. The project could supply 104 U.S. nuclear power plants, company spokesman Jarret Adams said.

The plant near Idaho Falls could be in operation by 2014, but Areva hasn't given final word on when construction will begin. That's because an ongoing review of planned capital investments by new Chief Executive Officer Luc Oursel and his management team has put a final decision on hold.

A vote on whether to begin building the plant in 2012 is due by Dec. 31, said Adams, who is based in Bethesda, Md.

The facility's full output would cover about a quarter of demand from U.S. nuclear power plants, although Areva does have competition. A newly built enrichment plant operated by Urenco USA in New Mexico is up and running, with the NRC in August giving the go-ahead for the facility to double its capacity to process nuclear fuel.


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