The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Tuesday, August 01, 2000
Paducah, Kentucky

Paducah plant could stand alone by March

By Joe Walker
Senior officials of USEC Inc. and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were scheduled to meet this morning to discuss a plan to make the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant a stand-alone facility by March.

The meeting was planned for 8 a.m. CST at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md.

USEC wants to upgrade the plant so it can enrich uranium to a level needed by nuclear power plants. The uranium is now sent to a sister plant near Portsmouth, Ohio, to finish the process, but USEC plans to close that plant in a year.

Although USEC had wanted commission approval of the upgrade by Dec. 31, NRC managers said that wasn't possible considering delays in receiving heavy documentation. The commission's adjusted schedule calls for approval in March, assuming USEC starts delivering major documents in September.

"In previous meetings, our regulatory affairs people shared our schedule, and this is NRC's turn to share with us its schedule for meeting the March deadline," said USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle.

She said she was unaware of developments that might delay approval. Attempts to reach NRC public affairs officers in Rockville were unsuccessful Monday.

On July 11, USEC signed a 10-year contract with the Tennessee Valley Authority for cheaper, more flexible electricity usage, which accounts for more than half the Paducah plant's productions costs. Last week, USEC announced completion of a $72 million seismic upgrade allowing the plant to produce at higher power if needed.

Those developments and the enrichment upgrade are steps to prepare the plant for consolidated enrichment operations once the Portsmouth plant closes, USEC said. Faced with a glutted market and a federal mandate to buy overpriced Russian uranium, the struggling company is cutting nearly 600 jobs at the two plants.