The higher production level at the Paducah plant was authorized March 19 by the NRC. Until now, reactor-grade fuel had been produced in two stages, requiring work at both the Paducah and Portsmouth, Ohio, enrichment plants. The Paducah plant enriched the uranium up to 2.75 percent and then sent it to Portsmouth for enrichment to the maximum 5.5 percent level needed in nuclear power plants.
With Paducah capable of operating on its own, the Portsmouth plant is to be shut down in June by USEC Inc., which operates the plants under lease from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Courtney Blanchard, senior resident inspector at the Paducah plant, said a series of performance-based inspections and employee interviews were conducted by NRC inspectors and plant officials.
To produce a higher production level, plant equipment was “reconfigured,” instead of installation of new equipment, Blanchard said. During the reviews, “minor changes” were needed in some nuclear safety evaluations.
“Everything has been smooth,” Blanchard said. “As an engineer, I guess I always look for ‘Murphy’s Law.’ There have been no unforeseen safety issues.”
He added that might be one reason why no members of the general public attended the meeting.
“We have conducted very thorough reviews and have made efforts to inform the public. If the public thought we were not being thorough about safety issues, then we would have had a larger turnout.”