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First-in-nation uranium deconversion plant delayed in N.M.

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International Isotopes Inc.’s construction of a first-of-its-kind depleted uranium deconversion plant just west of Hobbs will be delayed because of a shortage of funding for the $125 million project, the company acknowledged Friday.

But the Idaho-based firm remains committed to building the facility, which is expected to employ 300 construction workers and create 130-150 permanent jobs when completed.

“We’re absolutely convinced the need will be there, if not today, not tomorrow, a couple of years from now,” President and CEO Steve T. Laflin told the Journal on Friday.

“We are as committed to this project as we ever have been.”

The Idaho Falls company announced the selection of a 640-acre building site 15 miles west of Hobbs in March 2009 and submitted its license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission the following January. The NRC issued a 40-year construction and operating license last October.

Originally, International Isotopes officials said they hoped to complete construction of the Lea County facility by the end of 2012.

But the need for additional funding — a mix of equity and debt financing — has extended that timeline.

Laflin said he expects construction could begin four to six months after the receipt of the necessary funding. If that estimate holds, the plant could be operational a year later, he said.

A major reason the company chose the location near Hobbs was because of its proximity to Louisiana Energy Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Urenco that processes depleted uranium fuel at its Urenco USA facility in nearby Eunice.

International Isotopes has an agreement with LES to acquire 50 percent of the raw materials it is seeking for its patented depleted uranium deconversion process, Laflin said, but that’s not enough to get favorable financing terms.

“Rather than going forward,” he said, “we’re going to string things out a bit here because we have several prospects we’re working with to fill up that capacity.”

Once built, International Isotopes intends to use a two-step uranium deconversion process that not only would process uranium waste, but would extract fluorine gas that could be marketed to companies that manufacture solar, microelectronics and petrochemical products.

The company owns the patents to that fluorine extraction process, which would make the New Mexico plant the first commercial depleted uranium deconversion and fluorine extraction processing facility in the nation.

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