Used by the Paducah plant during 50 years of operation, at peak requiring 2 billion watts of electricity daily, more than the state of Texas and twice that of St. Louis. The massive power — costing hundreds of millions of dollars annually, accounting for 55 percent of the plant’s total production expenses — is needed to run huge machinery in more than 300 acres of cavernous buildings to separate the useful and non-useful is7otopes of uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) for nuclear fuel. The gas is pushed through miles of piping containing billions of holes smaller than two-millionths of an inch.
Used in Europe for several decades, the process enriches UF6 by spinning it at high speeds in hundreds of tall cylinders. The Energy Department spent nine years building a $1.5 billion centrifuge plant at Piketon, then abandoned it in 1985 after brief testing.
Now USEC Inc. is testing the process to replace the Paducah diffusion plant within a decade. It uses just 10 percent of the power needed for the gaseous diffusion process and produces much less waste.