Extended operation for Paducah?

12 January 2011

US uranium enrichment company USEC said that it is working to extend the operation of its Paducah plant in Kentucky beyond May 2012, when the old and inefficient gaseous diffusion plant had been expected to shut down.


Paducah (USEC)
The Paducah gaseous diffusion plant (Image: USEC)
The company said that it is negotiating with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and other electricity suppliers for power to operate the Paducah plant beyond mid-2012 when USEC's current power agreement with TVA expires. USEC noted that, "Because the plant is a large consumer of electricity, power prices are a significant factor in the cost of operations and future planning for Paducah."


USEC expects to reach a decision during the first half of 2011. The company said that it will "base its decision to extend operations upon economic considerations and the ability of the plant to operate profitably."


USEC is also considering enriching a portion of the Department of Energy's (DoE's) depleted uranium stockpile. The company said, "Given the current price of uranium, the federal government could generate substantial revenue by re-enriching portions of the depleted uranium at Paducah to the level of natural uranium."


Steve Penrod, general manager of the Paducah plant and vice president of USEC, commented: "DoE has a unique opportunity while the plant is still operating that would be a win-win for everyone." He added, "Re-enrichment would reduce DoE's decontamination and decommissioning costs while generating revenue for the federal government and maintaining 1200 good, local jobs. From the American taxpayers' standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to extract the valuable uranium; and the time to act is now while Paducah’s capacity is available and uranium prices are strong."


According to USEC, the amount of natural uranium that would be sold annually under such a program represents less than 2.5% of world uranium demand. It noted, "As has been demonstrated over the past year, sales of surplus DoE uranium can be implemented without an adverse material impact on the domestic uranium industry."


The Paducah plant – currently the only operating uranium enrichment facility in the USA - is set to be replaced by USEC's planned American Centrifuge Plant (ACP) project in Piketon, Ohio. According to USEC, the ACP will use 95% less electricity than the Paducah plant, which began operating in the early 1950s.


The full ACP plant was originally expected to commence commercial operation in early 2010, reaching 1 million SWU capacity a year later and achieve full 3.8 million SWU annual capacity at the end of 2012. However, early in 2009 the whole project was slowed pending funding through the DoE loan guarantee program, and in July 2009 it was suspended due to the DoE refusing to award a $2 billion loan guarantee, and asking USEC to withdraw its application.


USEC refused to do this, and in July 2010, it submitted an updated loan guarantee application to the DoE. In October 2010, DoE informed USEC that it has largely completed its initial technical review of USEC's application and is proceeding to the next stage of the loan guarantee process.


Although USEC earlier secured investment of $200 million from Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox to support the ACP, the company maintains that additional financing is needed to complete plant construction. USEC said: "We believe a loan guarantee under the DoE loan guarantee program is essential to raising the capital needed to complete the American Centrifuge Plant."


Researched and written 

by World Nuclear News