Paducah deactivation begins

22 October 2014

Work to deactivate the former Paducah gaseous diffusion enrichment plant can begin in earnest after Centrus Energy subsidiary United States Enrichment Corporation formally handed back full control of the Kentucky complex to the US Department of Energy (DoE).

Paducah site leader Jennifer Woodward receives a ceremonial "key" to symbolise the handover of the Paducah site from Centrus to DoE (Image: US Department of Energy)

The vast complex began enriching uranium for the US military program in 1952, later moving on to supply enrichment services to the civil nuclear power sector. DoE is responsible for deactivating the plant, and in July awarded a $420 million 3-year contract to Fluor Federal Services to undertake work to prepare the site for deactivation and decommissioning.

DoE site leader Jennifer Woodward described the handover as a significant step forward in the department's clean-up mission. "For over 60 years this plant has served its purpose of enriching uranium for nuclear defence and energy. Now it is time to begin the process for deactivating the plant and preparing for decontamination and decommissioning," she said.

The Paducah plant was leased and operated by the United States Enrichment Corporation from 1998 until enrichment operations ceased in May 2013, and a program to prepare the site for the handover began with the repackaging of inventory for removal to other licensed storage locations. The transfer of enriched uranium product to off-site licensed locations was completed by April 2014.

United States Enrichment Corporation parent company USEC Inc became Centrus in September 2014 following restructuring under US bankruptcy law. Centrus interim president and CEO John Castellano said that the completion of the handover would allow his company to turn its focus to serving its utility customers, improving its business and maintaining the American Centrifuge technology. He noted that the turnover of the Paducah plant to DOE would have no effect on customers or their deliveries.

Paducah's closure left Urenco's LES centrifuge facility as the only operating uranium enrichment plant in the USA. GE-Hitachi-Cameco joint venture Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) is involved in discussions with DoE to build a facility at the site for the enrichment of high-assay uranium tails from DoE's own inventory.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News