The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, August 30, 2002

UF6 conversion contract to add jobs in Paducah
A company in Oak Ridge, Tenn., will build facilities in Paducah and Piketon, Ohio, to convert hazardous waste.

By Joe Walker

About 150 permanent jobs and as many as 400 construction jobs will be created when an Oak Ridge, Tenn., firm builds a facility to convert about 37,000 cylinders of hazardous waste at the Paducah uranium enrichment plant into a safer material.

The $558 million contract awarded Thursday to Uranium Disposition Services LLC is expected to create 20 major subcontracting projects for the facility, which will treat and recycle depleted uranium hexafluoride, or UF6, left over from enrichment work at the plant during its 50 years of operation.

"Our intent is to have preferential hiring from the local area," said Pat Hopper, UDS president and chief executive officer. He declined to give pay ranges but said wages and salaries "will be competitive with the market area."

The company, which already has two other conversion plants, beat four other bidders, including one involving enrichment plant operator USEC Inc. Under the new contract, UDS will also build a conversion plant in Piketon, Ohio, and run both it and the Paducah plant for five years through Aug. 3, 2010.

Under a recent congressional mandate, construction must start by July 1, 2004, which Hopper called an "aggressive" target date. The new legislation, part of an anti-terrorism spending bill, had required the Energy Department to award a contract for the project within a month of the president's signing the bill.

The Paducah facility will be built immediately south of the cylinder yards on the east side of the enrichment plant entrance road and across from the Energy Department Site Office, he said.

Hopper said the Energy Department requires that all the material be converted in 25 years or less. UDS' contract is for the first five years. After that, DOE will determine what to do with the rest of the material, he said.

The conversion breaks down toxic, slightly radioactive UF6 into uranium oxide and hydrogen fluoride, or HF. Although there are established markets for HF, the oxide remains a question mark, he said.

"We have a program to look into commercial recycling uses for uranium oxide," Hopper said. "If there are outlets available, we'll find and use them. If not, the material will be buried in an approved facility in the Southwest."

Three firms joined forces to form UDS specifically to bid on the project. The group's components:

  • Framatome ANP (Advanced Nuclear Power), a leading nuclear technology provider, based in Lynchburg, Va. Framatome, part of a French consortium, operates UF6 conversion plants in Richland, Wash., and in Germany.

  • Lakewood, Colo.-based Duratek Federal Services, whose advanced nuclear waste disposal technology is used at many Energy Department sites.

  • Burns and Roe Enterprises of Oradell, N.J., an architectural/engineering firm that has done nuclear power plant work nationwide.

    Hopper said he thought UDS' experience and reputation, combined with having existing conversion plants, were factors in winning the contract.

    "I think the technology obviously was a factor, because it is a very simple, one-step conversion process," he said. "It's not complicated and doesn't have a lot of moving parts. It's operating safely and efficiently under NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) rigor right now, so it's a mature, proven process."

    UDS was one of three finalists when the Energy Department abruptly stopped the evaluation in January after months of review. The other finalists were American Conversion Services, formed by USEC and the environmental firm CH2M Hill, and Jacobs COGEMA, formed by Jacobs Engineering Group and COGEMA.

    The two-plant process — originally mandated by Congress in 1998 through the strong efforts of the Kentucky delegation — was halted because the Office of Management and Budget questioned the need for two plants. This summer, the delegation had new language passed to enforce building plants in Paducah and Piketon.

    Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, and Jim Bunning, R-Southgate, along with Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, lauded the new contract after four years of stalled efforts. They said the project will create jobs while cleaning up 700,000 metric tons of hazardous waste, much of which is at Paducah.

    McConnell said the Energy Department met one part of the legislation by awarding the contract on time. He said he will see that DOE meets the second requirement — seeking adequate funding in fiscal 2004 and beyond to "ensure completion of the project."

    Washington policy analyst Richard Miller, who helped McConnell’s staff write the new legislation, said the question now is whether the Energy Department will "free up" $373 million set aside for the project. The money, collected by USEC from its utility customers for use in UF6 disposal, was put into a fund established by the 1998 law but has never been used, he said.

    "That will cover the cost of building the two facilities and then some, and not require a vast amount of appropriations," said Miller, who works for the Government Accountability Project, a national watchdog group. "I think the next challenge is for the OMB and DOE to come forward and make those monies available. Until this point, they've been under lock and key."