The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, May 25, 2001

USEC seen as portion of park's future
Research work by the University of Kentucky, DOE and others is also hoped at the Paducah Information Age Park.

By Bill Bartleman

Future development of the Paducah Information Age Park could center on research and development associated with the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Environmental issues, energy and agriculture are among the possibilities giving the park the potential to generate $7 billion for the economy, according to Stuart Gilbert, executive director of the Greater Paducah Economic Development Corp. (GPEDC).

The fact that Paducah has the nation's only plant for enriching uranium for use as a nuclear fuel adds to the potential for development, he said. The 3,000-acre plant compound is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, and the enrichment plant is operated by the United States Enrichment Corp., a privately held company.

"We have a significant opportunity to take advantage of resources related to the DOE site that so far haven't materialized," Gilbert said.

As part of the effort to take advantage of opportunities at the DOE site, GPEDC is ready to sell the Resource Center building in the Information Age Park. He confirmed that the University of Kentucky, DOE and USEC are among the businesses and educational institutions that have expressed interest in the building. The asking price is $3.5 million.

Future development in the park could involve private firms involved in research and nuclear cleanup activities.

University of Kentucky President-elect Lee Todd wants UK to establish a major presence in western Kentucky in research and development.

Earlier this month, Todd and Dr. Tom Lester, dean of UK's College of Engineering, met with USEC President Nick Timbers to discuss UK's being involved in research at the plant. They also expressed interest in expanding UK's engineering program to provide continuing education for plant workers.

"Nick Timbers seemed very receptive to the idea of UK providing some research and believed it could be in USEC's best interest," Lester said. "We will provide him with some documentation of our research capabilities in several areas and see where it goes from there."

USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said the discussions involved ways UK and USEC could work together on several projects. "These discussions are preliminary, and further discussions will probably occur," she said.

Gilbert said other educational institutions could be involved.

DOE has a plan to spend more than $1 billion on cleanup of nuclear waste at the plant over the next 10 years. The complexity of the contamination is such that it will require development of new technology, which Todd said is where UK could become a major player.

Gilbert and Todd also said that as the cleanup progresses, there will be opportunities for new projects, such as finding markets for recycling some of the materials stored at the plant.

Within the next two years, DOE is expected to release funds to build a $300 million plant to recycle the depleted uranium that is stored in more than 36,000 containers. Federal officials are reviewing proposals from at least five firms, including USEC.

Another potential is research and development of new, more-cost-effective methods to enrich uranium, Gilbert said. The gaseous diffusion process was developed more than 50 years ago and is expensive because it consumes massive amounts of electricity.

USEC currently is helping to pay for research for a new generation of enrichment technology, known as Silex.

USEC holds the commercial rights to Silex in the United States, and is in partnership with an Australian firm that is conducting extensive research that has cost USEC at least $5 million.

A recent report on the research said 50 scientists and technicians were working on the project and that the research was being conducted in Australia, the United States, Europe and South Africa.

Gilbert thinks some of the research can be done in Paducah.

Helping with research fits the requirements for success in economic development in the new age economy, he said. Firms are looking for "brainpower" to help them compete in the high-tech markets, and the presence of UK and other research institutions would provide that element, he said.

Research opportunities in energy and agriculture are endless, Gilbert said. He said research could involve finding new, environmentally friendly ways to produce electricity, and to expand the potential use for nuclear power.

In agriculture, considerable current research involves animal and plant proteins, and agriculture's significant presence in the region's economy could help attract that type of research, he said.