USEC seeks centrifuge plant permit
By Joe Walker
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
USEC Inc. has applied with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to build and operate a gas centrifuge plant in Piketon, Ohio, by the end of the decade.
The Bethesda, Md., firm filed the request Monday, seven months ahead of schedule. It is the latest step toward replacing the 1,300-employee Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, whose technology is outdated and expensive. USEC plans to phase out the plant starting in 2010 and replace it with a revamped decades-old technology called American Centrifuge.
Before granting the Piketon plant license, the NRC will do an extensive safety and environmental review, USEC said. Employing 500, the factory will be housed in some of the same buildings where the Department of Energy operated hundreds of similar centrifuge machines in the early 1980s. By leasing facilities from DOE — including process buildings large enough to house 20 football fields — USEC expects to reduce deployment costs and save time.
The license application seeks an initial annual production capacity of 3.5 million units of enriched uranium — the same minimum amount at which the Paducah plant must be operated under terms of a June 2002 agreement with the Energy Department. The Paducah plant normally produces about 5 million units a year.
According to the agreement, Paducah's minimum standard may be reduced only after USEC is within six months of operating a replacement gas centrifuge plant with the same capacity.
An environmental report submitted with the NRC application also evaluates the modular expansion of the Piketon plant to a maximum annual production capacity of 7 million units. Completing the evaluation should make it easier in the future for USEC to amend the license to expand capacity beyond 3.5 million units, the firm said.