The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, September 19, 2003

Quick work on rotor tube aids USEC speedup of centrifuge
Paducah and Piketon continue their competition.

By Joe Walker

As Paducah vies for a new uranium enrichment plant, USEC Inc. has announced another milestone: making the first gas centrifuge rotor tube more than two months ahead of schedule.

The tube is a long, fast-spinning part of a centrifuge machine, and its performance is critical to the economics of using centrifugal force to enrich uranium for use in nuclear fuel. Built of lightweight, high-strength material, the rotor tubes will be heavily tested before the system, called American Centrifuge, is designed, USEC said.

"We continue to meet our milestones ahead of schedule as we move toward the demonstration and deployment of what we believe will be the most efficient uranium enrichment technology in the world," said Ron Green, senior vice president of the Bethesda, Md., firm.

USEC announced July 30 that it is accelerating the centrifuge schedule by one year. The firm picked Piketon, Ohio, to be the site of a $150 million, 50-job demonstration plant, which will start operating in 2005. Because Piketon has buildings designed for gas centrifuge and lacks Paducah's seismic problems, it has an advantage in getting a 500-job commercial gas centrifuge plant by the end of the decade, USEC says.

Paducah is competing against Piketon for the permanent plant, hoping to secure cheaper electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority to help offset the disadvantages. Led by their state governors, both communities are preparing incentive packages to give to USEC by a tentative Oct. 10 deadline. USEC said it will pick a winner by the end of the year.

The centrifuge plant will replace the outdated, 1,200-employee Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which uses massive amounts of electricity.

USEC said the rotor tube was manufactured at its technology center in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where scientists, engineers and technicians are working to finalize the American Centrifuge design. The test plant will yield cost, schedule and performance data for the commercial plant. USEC said the faster schedule is partly based on being able to gather information with "significantly fewer" than the maximum 240 machines originally slated for the test plant.

The commercial plant will cost about $1.5 billion.