NRC clears centrifuge plant decommissioning plan

15 August 2018

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has completed its final environmental assessment of the decommissioning plan for Centrus Energy Corporation's Lead Centrifuge Facility (LCF), with a finding of No Significant Impact.

Centrus' 120-machine demonstration cascade, which operated at Piketon until 2016 (Image: Centrus)

The LCF, located at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio, was set up to demonstrate the effectiveness of the gas centrifuge design and equipment for use in the planned American Centrifuge Plant. The prototype lead cascade started operations in August 2006.

In early 2016, Centrus completed a successful three-year demonstration of a full 120 machine cascade of advanced centrifuges, demonstrating the long-term performance and reliability of the machines under actual operating conditions. In March that year, the company notified the NRC of its decision to permanently cease operations and its intention to decontaminate and decommission the LCF. The US Department of Energy (DOE) had announced in September 2015 that it would not fund additional operations as the centrifuge cascade had successfully delivered the necessary data.

Centrus in May 2016 asked the NRC to remove enrichment capability from the LCF's licence, downgrading the facility to "limited operations". The NRC has since verified that Centrus has removed all process gas in the form of UF6, and that all the facility's classified equipment, including centrifuges and piping, has been shipped offsite for appropriate disposition.

The LCF's licensee, Centrus subsidiary American Centrifuge Operating, LLC, in January requested NRC approval of its decommissioning plan, which includes release criteria and the design of a final status survey to verify that residual contamination levels are less than regulatory limits. Such approval is needed for final decommissioning of the LCF, termination of its licence, and the potential future release of the site and its return to its owner, the DOE.

The NRC's environmental assessment, and its conclusion that the proposed decommissioning plan will not significantly affect the quality of the human environment, were published in the US Federal Register on 1 August.

Although the American Centrifuge Plant has not been built, Centrus continues to perform engineering and testing work on centrifuge enrichment technology under contract to the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, to preserve and advance US-origin uranium enrichment technology to support future national security and energy security needs.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News