By Joe Walker email@example.com
Word came without fanfare Friday as the United States Enrichment Corp., which operates both plants, announced it shut down production at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant May 11, about a month earlier than projected. USEC said it sent a letter Friday to the Department of Energy, which owns the plants, formally notifying the agency of the development.
"The Portsmouth employees have shown a strong commitment to safety and a high degree of professionalism in their work to conclude enrichment operations at the plant," said William "Nick" Timbers, USEC president and chief executive officer.
USEC, which has leased the plants from the Energy Department since 1993, announced last year that it would stop production at the Ohio plant in June, leaving Paducah as its only uranium enrichment facility. The decision was made amid drastic cost-cutting measures, including massive layoffs at both plants, because the firm was struggling financially.
Earlier this week, Timbers visited the Paducah plant and held a community reception celebrating Paducah's work to become a stand-alone facility. During the past year, thousands of work hours went into being able to produce reactor-grade uranium hexafluoride for direct shipment to nuclear power plants. Until now, the material had to be sent to Portsmouth to finish the process.
The Energy Department plans to build a pilot facility at the Portsmouth plant to explore replacing the outdated, expensive gaseous diffusion process with gas centrifuge. That work is slated to start this year and be finished by 2005.