The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Thursday, November 16, 2000
Paducah, Kentucky

Texas recycling firm tours Paducah plant
The company, which recovers fluorine for reuse, came to the plant and PACRO ‘with a concept, not a proposal’ about building a facility here.

By Joe Walker
A Texas firm toured the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant Wednesday to discuss recovering valuable fluorine from 37,000 cylinders of by-product waste from the plant's uranium enrichment process.

The company, called TOXCO, would establish a recovery facility near the plant if it eventually strikes a deal, said Jimmie Hodges of ELR Consultants, a contractor for the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization. Hodges and members of PACRO's plant facilities reuse committee met with TOXCO officials during their visit.

"They came with a concept, not a proposal," Hodges told PACRO members during their monthly meeting later Wednesday in Mayfield. "Today was kind of the opening dialogue. There are a lot of issues out there to explore further."

He said the visit was encouraging and company officials will continue to talk with PACRO, a group of civic and business leaders formed to find ways to offset Paducah plant job losses.

"They (TOXCO officials) want to bring spin-off industries from that," he said. "In other words, the end users of the fluorine might be able to locate here."

Hodges, former Department of Energy site manager at the plant, said the cylinders contain roughly 100,000 metric tons of fluorine, which could generate "a potful of money" for commercial application such as in the silicone and electronics industries. One of the biggest makers and users of fluorine is the Honeywell plant at Metropolis, Ill., which ships raw product to the Paducah plant, he said.

Prices for fluorine products range widely from $1 to $100 per pound, depending on how specialized, Hodges said.

Many years ago, the Paducah plant made fluorine and raw-product uranium hexafluoride. Hodges said TOXCO is interested in 30 to 50 cells used in the process that are stored at the plant. After decontamination costs, each cell might reap a $2,000 profit, he said.

TOXCO, a metals-reuse company that works in Texas, Tennessee and other states, has broadened its scope by acquiring another firm that makes fluorine speciality products. Besides having a keen eye on the huge amount of fluorine at the Paducah plant, TOXCO officials are impressed with the plant work force, Hodges said.

"They're very much interested because we have trained people," he said. "They (workers) are used to handling fluorine compounds, and that's a very good asset for us to have."

TOXCO is the second firm PACRO has talked to in recent months about recycling plant materials for commercial use. A Canadian company that makes plates for the U.S. Treasury is expected to submit a proposal by year’s end to recycle radioactive nickel.

That facility would create 26 to 40 jobs and, through the sale of nickel, could generate $8 million to $12 million for PACRO to funnel into other ventures to produce income for displaced plant workers.

Hodges gave no job projections based on his talks with TOXCO officials. He said he signed an agreement not to discuss business-sensitive details.

The TOXCO visit came only a few weeks after the Energy Department sent out a request for proposals from companies interested in converting the cylinder waste into something safer. DOE hopes the recycled material can be used commercially and has said fluorine applications are the most promising.

PACRO member Henry Hodges, director of the Purchase Area Development District, said TOXCO representatives stopped at the PADD office after touring the plant and agreed to provide a list of the types of companies to whom they sell.

"It's encouraging," he said. "And you can tell it's complex."