The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

PACRO has offer to refine old nickel

The refining and recycling of radioactive nickel has been banned by DOE, but a Canadian firm says it can remove all traces of radioactivity.

By Joe Walker

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The American subsidiary of a Canadian firm wants to build a 50- to 100-job factory here to clean and recycle 9,700 tons of radiologically contaminated scrap nickel at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Tests verified by three independent labs have proven that Chemical Vapour Metal Refining USA can remove all traces of radioactive isotopes, said President Mike Hargett. CVMR is owned by a Toronto company called Chemical Vapour Deposition Manufacturing.

The next big step is convincing the U.S. Department of Energy to lift a five-year, safety-related ban on removing contaminated scrap metal at any of its plants, Hargett said. DOE imposed the ban partly in response to those worried about contaminated nickel winding up in consumer products.

"The resistance has basically been ‘if it's contaminated at all, I don't want it,´" Hargett said, adding that CVMR nickel is purer than commercial nickel containing natural radiation.

During a visit to the Paducah plant in August, Charles Anderson, principal deputy assistant secretary for DOE´s Office of Environmental Management, said a time frame had not been set on deciding the ban issue.

But DOE has factored scrap metal recycling into its scope of work for a new cleanup contractor that will replace Bechtel Jacobs on Nov. 1. The new firm has not been named.

Hargett said he expects DOE to eventually lift the ban and perhaps at first restrict nickel use to the nuclear industry. To reassure the public, CVMR wants to track products in which the nickel is used, he said.

Hargett reviewed test results Wednesday with members of the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization (PACRO), established by DOE to create jobs to offset those lost at the Paducah plant. PACRO director John Anderson said other recycling firms are interested in the nickel, but PACRO has been talking with CVMR for several years.

The Paducah factory would have two small buildings, each about the size of the Paducah City Commission chambers where the PACRO meeting took place, Hargett said. One operation would grind the nickel small enough to be cleaned; the other would convert it into "ultra pure" metal more versatile than regular nickel, he said.

Among the many potential industrial uses are for making lightweight, long-lasting nickel batteries and for nickel plating molds used in the automotive industry. Hargett said the Toronto plant is plating $20 bill molds for the U.S. Treasury to make them more durable.

Although the chemistry is not new, CVMR has refined engineering and computerization to better control the process, Hargett said. The factory would recycle 1,000 to 2,000 tons of nickel a year, recovering 98 percent of the metal.

The process also is effective for 34 different metals, so it could be used to recycle at least 38,000 tons of other scrap metal at DOE plants nationwide, including a large amount at Paducah, he said. The nickel alone has been valued at $8 million to $10 million.

Hargett said markets for the clean metal are significant because the U.S. consumes 40 percent of the nickel worldwide but produces only 10 percent.