The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Saturday, September 07, 2002

USEC promises 2005 start of gas centrifuge test plant
Two years later, construction of an enrichment plant is to begin either in Paducah or Piketon, Ohio.

By Joe Walker

USEC Inc. has told world nuclear industry leaders that in 2005, it will be running a test facility that will lead to starting construction of a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant two years later in either Paducah or Piketon, Ohio.

Dennis Spurgeon, USEC executive vice president and chief operating officer, told members of the World Nuclear Association on Friday in London that the test plant will showcase improvements in the technology, using centrifugal force to separate useful and non-useful isotopes of uranium for nuclear fuel.

He said USEC is confident the technology will be the world's most efficient. The Bethesda, Md.-based firm, which operates the 1,500-employee Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, will spend about $150 million during the next five years on a test plant using as many as 240 machines that previous performance shows will be the most economical in the world, Spurgeon said.

"We don't have to develop a new technology; it is already proven ...," he said. "With the lowest unit-cost basis, our technology will yield the best return on investment of any centrifuge being deployed."

One of USEC's chief competitors is Urenco, a European consortium that has used gas centrifuge for decades. Urenco leads an American group, Louisiana Energy Services, that is expected to announce next week whether it will build a gas centrifuge plant in Hartsville, Tenn., or Bellefonte, Ala.

USEC is racing with LES to deploy the technology, which is far cheaper and more efficient than the outdated diffusion process used at Paducah. USEC is reviewing economic proposals from Kentucky and Ohio for the test plant, and will provide feedback before the two states submit final proposals by Oct. 25.

By year's end, USEC will decide whether to build a 50-job test plant in Paducah or Piketon, where it has a closed diffusion plant. By the end of the decade, one of the communities will get a $1.5 billion commercial centrifuge plant requiring about 1,000 construction workers and 500 permanent jobs.

Spurgeon told the London gathering that USEC is improving "an already impressive" technology on which the Department of Energy spent $3 billion during more than two decades. Thousands of centrifuge machines were built and operated for thousands of hours at performance levels superior to today's best-installed centrifuge technology, he said.

DOE built a centrifuge plant in Piketon but stopped the process in the 1980s just as it was ready for commercial use. At the time, the government opted for a laser-based process called AVLIS that USEC abandoned a few years ago as not cost-efficient.

In conjunction with the University of Tennessee and Batelle Corp., USEC is finalizing an agreement for DOE approval to continue centrifuge work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Many of the lab's scientists and engineers who developed the original U.S. centrifuge technology are working on the USEC test-plant program, Spurgeon said.

Besides returning to centrifuge, USEC continues investing in SILEX, a laser-based technology developed in Australia. Although SILEX still is in the research and development stage, it has promise as a third-generation technology, Spurgeon said.

His London speech is available at