The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, September 20, 2002

Oak Ridge lab to tune gas centrifuge
Out of $150 million that USEC will spend to build a test plant either in Paducah or Piketon, Ohio, $121 million will go toward the technology.

By Joe Walker

USEC Inc. has finalized a $121 million, five-year agreement to work with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to fine-tune gas centrifuge technology that will ultimately go to Paducah or Piketon, Ohio.

The agreement with University of Tennessee-Batelle, which manages the Department of Energy research lab in Oak Ridge, Tenn. extends through June 2007. USEC and lab personnel will work to deploy a 240-cylinder gas centrifuge test facility by 2005 at the 1,500-employee Paducah uranium enrichment plant, or at a closed enrichment plant in Piketon.

Final incentive packages for the 50-employee test plant are due by Oct. 25 from Kentucky and Ohio. USEC has said the winner, to be announced in late November or early December, will have a distinct advantage in getting a 500-employee commercial centrifuge plant by the end of the decade. The plant will eventually replace the outdated, energy-intensive gaseous diffusion process used at Paducah for the past 50 years.

"USEC's centrifuge program uses the same technology that DOE spent more than two decades and $3 billion developing and improves its economics through the use of state-of-the-art-materials and manufacturing processes," said Dennis Spurgeon, USEC vice president and chief operating officer.

A decade before USEC was formed, the Energy Department built thousands of centrifuge machines and ran them for thousands of hours in the mid-1980s. But the would-be commercial plant never opened because DOE opted in 1985 to research a laser-based process called AVLIS. Having abandoned AVLIS as inefficient, USEC has returned to centrifuge.

Spurgeon said the Oak Ridge lab research will produce a lower-risk, better-performing test plant. The demonstration facility is expected to provide updated cost, schedule and performance data for a $1.5 billion commercial plant.

Under the new research agreement, UT-Batelle will receive $28.5 million for specific design, testing and analysis work. The $121 million deal covers most of the $150 million that USEC plans to spend during the next five years toward the test plant.

Centrifuge research is "of vital importance to our energy security needs and to the nation," said Gil Gilliland, the lab's associate director for energy and engineering sciences. "This represents a commitment to support the growth of nuclear energy, a clean power source that is not dependent on foreign suppliers."

USEC closed the Piketon diffusion plant last year, leaving the Paducah plant as the nation's sole remaining uranium enrichment facility. The company is racing with Louisiana Energy Services, which plans to build a centrifuge plant in Tennessee. Louisiana Energy Services is a consortium led by Urenco, a European enrichment firm and a chief USEC competitor.