Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) is located in western Kentucky, 10 miles west of the City of Paducah, near the Ohio River in McCracken County. The plant sits on a 3,425-acre tract of property, 750 acres of which are enclosed inside the PGDP security fence and 74 of those contain process buildings. The site is owned by DOE and leased and operated by the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), a subsidiary of USEC, Inc.

It is the only operating uranium enrichment facility in the U.S. The site contains uranium enrichment process equipment and support facilities. The mission of the Plant is to "enrich" uranium for use in domestic and foreign commercial power reactors. Enrichment involves increasing the percentage of uranium-235 in the material used for creating reactor fuel (UF6). Uranium-235 is highly fissionable, unlike the more common isotope uranium-238. The PGDP enriches the UF6 from roughly 0.7 percent uranium-235 to about 2.75 percent uranium-235. The plant has a design capacity of 11.3 million SWU per year. SWU stands for separative work unit, the industry standard for measuring uranium enrichment services. Customers pay for the number of SWU required to enrich their uranium feed to their specifications.

The plant employs about 1,200 people, down from 1,700 in the late 1990s. At that time the enrichment operation was managed by Lockheed Martin Utility Services, Inc. for USEC. Also at the time, the site also hosted 491 Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, Inc. contract personnel working on the DOE's Environmental Management & Enrichment Facilities program. The FY 1998 budget for Paducah by the DOE Environmental Management Program included $27.9 million for environmental restoration, $16.1 million for waste management, and $15.1 million for enrichment facilities programs.

Operations at Paducah began in 1952. Its original mission was to produce highly enriched uranium used to power military reactors and to produce nuclear weapons for the government. Paducah served as a feed facility for plants in Oak Ridge and Piketon, enriching uranium only to low levels before sending it off to the other facilities to be processed. In the 1960s, the Paducah plant's mission changed from enriching uranium for nuclear weapons to producing produce low assay enriched uranium for nuclear fuel in commercial reactors.

The Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct) created USEC, a government corporation, to transfer uranium enrichment to the private sector. On July 1, 1993, USEC took over Paducah operations. The USEC facilities in Paducah, Kentucky, and Portsmouth, Ohio, worked in tandem to enrich uranium for fuel in commercial nuclear power plants to produce electricity, until May 2001 when operations at Portsmouth were ended and consolidated at Paducah. Previously, the Paducah plant had enriched uranium up to 2.75 percent and then shipped it to the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant for further enrichment to five percent. In June 2002, the transfer and shipping operations that had continued at Portsmouth were consolidated at Paducah. Today, Paducah continues to produce low-enriched uranium fuel for commercial use.

Past operations at the plant resulted in the contamination of a number of areas, both at the site and beyond its boundaries, with radioactive and hazardous materials. Missions at Paducah now include environmental cleanup, waste management, depleted uranium conversion, deactivation and decommissioning, re-industrialization, and long-term stewardship. The end state completion baseline date for Paducah is 2030. Although the plant is leased and operated by USEC, environmental restoration and related waste management activities associated with past practices will be conducted by DOE. However, under the provisions of the lease, future plant shut down and cleanup activities will be the responsibility of USEC.

The role of the DOE had Paducah is concentrated in environmental restoration and waste management DOE's Office of Environmental Management is responsible for the cleanup at Paducah. Prior to January 2001, the Office of Nuclear Energy was responsible for management of the site's infrastructure, including the roads, grounds, and buildings not leased to USEC and for decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) of inactive facilities. DOE material storage areas (DMSAs) were transferred to the Office of Environmental Management. The Office of Nuclear Energy is only responsible for administering USEC's lease today. DOE operates a waste management program that includes onsite storage of low-level, mixed transuranic waste. DOE also oversees the cylinders of depleted uranium hexafluoride, about 30,000 of which remained in the late 1990s. The Paducah site cleanup is funded primarily through the Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund, which was established by the EPAct.

According to the April 2004 GAO report GAO-04-457, "Nuclear Waste Cleanup: DOE Has Made Some Progress in Cleaning Up the Paducah Site, but Challenges Remain," from fiscal year 1988 through fiscal year 2003, DOE spent $823 million (in 2002 dollars) for cleanup and related activities at Paducah. In FY 2004 DOE projected that cleanup would last until 2019 and cost almost $1.6 billion to complete, which was 9 years and about $300 million more than DOE's earlier projection. The $1.6 billion does not final decontamination and decommissioning of the plant, long-term environmental monitoring, and other activities required once operations are ended. DOE estimates the cost of these activities at almost $5 billion.

The Paducah plant it set to be replaced by the American Centrifuge Technology and Manufacturing Center in Portsmouth, Ohio. In March 2004, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensed USEC to operate its American Centrifuge Demonstration Facility, called the Lead Cascade, in Piketon, Ohio. USEC applied for a NRC license for the construction and operation the proposed full-scale commercial uranium enrichment plant in August 2004. The center will include gas centrifuge uranium enrichment technology, which will replace the gaseous diffusion process. USEC began construction on the American Centrifuge Plant in May 2007. Commercial operations are expected to begin in late 2009, with a production level of 3.5 million SWU by 2010.

On June 17, 2002, in a DOE-USEC Memorandum of Agreement, USEC committed to operate and maintain the long-term operability of the Paducah site until USEC deploys the American Centrifuge Plant at the end of the decade. The DOE Office of Nuclear Fuel Supply Security ensures implementation of the Agreement. Under the guidance of NE-60, the Oak Ridge Office (ORO) administers leases between DOE and USEC at the Paducah site. In March 1997, NRC assumed nuclear safety oversight responsibilities. ORO also provides regulatory oversight of the portions of Paducah leased to USEC but not under NRC regulation.

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