The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Saturday, December 15, 2001

Recycling pact due on UF6 in Paducah
Bids from three firms have been under review for a year, and a contract will be awarded Jan. 15. Numerous new jobs are expected.

By Bill Bartleman bbartleman@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

A contract to recycle more than 14 billion pounds of depleted uranium hexafluoride (UF6) at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant will be awarded on Jan. 15 by the U.S. Department of Energy.

"We've been looking forward to this announcement for a long time," said Ken Wheeler, chairman of a local task force promoting the project and others related to the plant. "Not only is it going to have a direct impact on the jobs it will create ... but we feel it is one of the key elements to getting major research and development activities in Paducah."

Members of Kentucky's congressional delegation were informed Friday that the contract will be awarded. Bids from three firms have been under review for about a year. Officials did not say which firm will get the contract.

Awarding the contract will be a positive step that the recycling plant will finally be built, Wheeler said.

"Once they get a contract, they are going to be obligated to go through with it," Wheeler said. "It is really good news, but it has been far too long to get to this point."

Wheeler noted that an $800,000 grant was awarded last summer as seed money to create a research consortium that includes the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, and the Kentucky Community and Technical College system.

Wheeler's group wants to transform the Paducah Information Age Park into an energy and environmental research center. He anticipates the need for significant research activities related to the recycling of the UF6, which hasn't been done in the United States.

Depleted UF6 is hazardous and contains low-level radiation. It has no established commercial use, but the facilities would convert the waste into safer material.

"We have to find some uses for the end product," Wheeler said. Potential applications range from reusing fluorine in the nuclear fuel industry to making a concretelike material out of uranium oxide for managing and storing spent nuclear fuel.

Officials estimate that the fluorine alone could be worth more than $1 billion.

Wheeler also noted that it will take up to two years to design the plant and begin construction. The consortium might receive grants to help in design research.

Wheeler anticipates other significant research and development opportunities related to cleanup operations and environmental issues at the plant. The potential also exists to provide some of the research for a more efficient method of enriching uranium for use as a nuclear fuel.

Once built, the plant will employ up to 300 people.

Members of Kentucky's congressional delegation — led by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell — have been battling DOE and administration officials for more than three years over repeated delays in the project.

Some delays have been caused by questions from administration officials over whether the recycling project should be a high priority, while other delays have been the result of questions over the wisdom of recycling the material that has a low level of radiation.

The UF6 is stored in more than 60,000 cylinders, two-thirds of which are in Paducah and the rest at closed enrichment facilities in Portsmouth, Ohio, and Oak Ridge, Tenn. Some of the cylinders have been at the Paducah plant since production began almost 50 years ago.

In 1998, McConnell and Whitfield guided legislation through Congress earmarking $373 million and requiring that recycling plants be built in Paducah and Portsmouth.

The three finalists for the contract are:

American Conversion Services, formed by USEC Inc., which operates the diffusion plant, and environmental firm CH2M Hill.

Jacobs COGEMA, formed by Jacobs Engineering Group and COGEMA. Jacobs is a partner with Bechtel National in Bechtel Jacobs, which beat Foster Wheeler and others to become the Paducah plant’s lead environmental contractor. COGEMA, a French firm, is a world leader in nuclear fuel services and already operates conversion facilities.

Uranium Disposition Services, formed by Framatome ANP (Advanced Nuclear Power) Richland, Duratek Federal Services, and Burns and Roe Enterprises. Framatome, of France, is a world leader in nuclear reactor production. Duratek, a Maryland firm, has advanced nuclear waste disposal technology. Burns and Roe is a New Jersey-based architectural and engineering firm.