Paducah enrichment plant to be closed

28 May 2013

USEC is to wind up operations this month at the Paducah plant it leases from the US Department of Energy (DoE). The 1950s facility is the last remaining gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment plant in the world.

Paducah (DoE)_200
Paducah was built between 1950 and 1952 at a cost of around $800 million as the USA's nuclear naval and power programs grew from wartime research and development (Image: USEC)

Given that USEC's American Centrifuge project is only at the stage of pilot operation, the closure of Paducah will leave the company without any enrichment capacity of its own. USEC said it would meet its commitments from existing inventory and purchases from Russia - from the downblending of decommissioned weapons or Russia's nuclear fuel export firm Tenex via a deal signed in 2011 to cover USEC's orders in the timeframe of 2013-2022.

Bob Van Namen is USEC's senior vice president and chief operating officer. He said the company had looked at possible ways to continue enrichment at Paducah, but the DoE "concluded there were not sufficient benefits to taxpayers." The government department owns the facility which it leases to USEC to operate.

The Paducah site will now be prepared for closure. Van Namen said USEC anticipates maintaining a workforce at Paducah "into next year to support ongoing operations, perform transition activities and meet regulatory requirements." He added that USEC wanted to make the transition to a shut-down state in a cost-effective manner: "The company and our workforce have unparalleled experience that should be drawn on."

Vice president of enrichment operations Steve Penrod said: "We want to thank our employees and the entire Paducah community for their efforts to support continued enrichment at the plant. Although the community has known about this possibility for a number of years, we recognise that the Paducah area will soon feel the real impact of this decision and its effects on many individuals and families."

US legacy infrastructure

In western Kentucky, Paducah has operated since September 1952 and has capacity of 8 million SWU per year, compared to US reactor needs of 12.7 million SWU per year. The plant was built in less than two years, at a cost of around $800 million as the USA's nuclear naval and power programs grew from wartime research and development. It is located across the Ohio River from the Metropolis conversion plant in southern Illinois, which turns uranium from solid to gaseous forms for the enrichment process. That plant is owned by Honeywell and General Atomics and operated by their joint venture ConverDyn.

Paducah is the world's only remaining gaseous diffusion enrichment plant, and the only US-owned enrichment facility in the USA (the other being Urenco's LES facility, which was inaugurated in 2012). Metropolis is the USA's only conversion plant.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News