I rarely get to write about uranium enrichment, since this critical piece of the nuclear supply chain is covered by only a few companies around the world. In the United States, USEC (NYSE:USU) is the only game in town.

Seems like that distinction would come with a wide moat, doesn't it? USEC would be an investor's dream … were it not for the outdated technology being employed at its only operational facility, and the trio of barbarians besieging its business.

Last year, I mentioned that USEC's Kentucky plant eats a huge amount of electricity. To flesh that out a bit, consider that a larger AREVA-run facility in France, using the same outdated technology, monopolizes the juice provided by multiple nuclear reactors when its enrichment operations are in full swing. Hence the push by USEC and various new entrants to introduce more energy-efficient processes here in the United States.

The front-runner appears to be Urenco. This private company, owned by a few European governments and utilities, should have its New Mexico plant up and running by the end of the year. Urenco is also notable for its cartoon mascot, Richie Enrichment. (Not kidding.)

AREVA, meanwhile, submitted the license application for its Idaho enrichment plant to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission three months ahead of schedule, whereas Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) just submitted an environmental report on its proposed North Carolina facility. GLE is the General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Hitachi (NYSE:HIT) party that Cameco (NYSE:CCJ) crashed last summer.

That leaves USEC and its American Centrifuge Plant. USEC ran some fluff PR on Friday, saying that it has customer commitments for half of initial planned sales from the new plant. These days, that's about as reassuring as Evergreen Solar's (NASDAQ:ESLR) sold-out production in the 2011-2013 time frame. Think Field of Dreams here: If you build it, they will come. Given the cost, though, that's a big if.

USEC can trot out supportive quotes from customers like Exelon (NYSE:EXC) all it wants, but that doesn't do anything for investors who are rightfully nervous about near-term financing. Notably, the share price didn't pop at all on this non-news.

USEC appears heavily dependent on federal loan guarantees in order to move its project forward. The Department of Energy just extended more than half a billion dollars of support to solar start-up Solyndra, so there is some hope that the spigot will open soon for USEC. Still, this is a highly speculative investment, so tread carefully, Fools.

Motley Fool CAPS players are clearly less concerned about potential pitfalls here, awarding USEC a golden five stars. Step on up and share your two cents.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool owns shares of Cameco, and has a disclosure policy to deter improper enrichment.