Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant to Begin Shutting Down at End of Week

After six decades of uranium enrichment for weapons, civilian power plants and diplomatic programs, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant will start the process of shutting down its production at the end of May.

Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Source: UsecOn Friday, Usec announced that it did not reach a deal with the federal government to facilitate another extension of enrichment operations at the plant. In a release, the company said it will begin cutting its staff in the coming months while keeping some people on board to perform maintenance, transition and regulatory tasks.

"We will continue to meet our customers' orders from our existing inventory, purchases from Russia under the historic Megatons to Megawatts program and our transitional supply contract with Russia that runs through 2022," Usec Chief Operating Officer Robert Van Namen said in a release. "In addition, our work to commercialize the American Centrifuge technology continues through our research, development and demonstration program."

Megatons to Megawatts is a program that converts decommissioned Russian warheads into civilian nuclear fuel. Usec has also developed the American Centrifuge Project in Piketon, Ohio, to commercialize a former military enrichment technology that is an order of magnitude more efficient than Paducah's gaseous diffusion process. Completion of the new plant, though, is also contingent upon the federal government. The research program has extended its operations temporarily as Usec seeks a long-delayed loan guarantee.

While commercial nuclear fuel manufacturers in the U.S. have other sources of enrichment services, such as Urenco's relatively new facility in New Mexico, the Paducah plant's supporters point out that it is the only U.S. uranium enrichment provider that is fully American owned.

Usec will "take steps to cease enrichment" in Paducah over the next month, according to the release, and will complete its remaining orders and obligations to the Department of Energy through 2014. The plant, owned by the DOE, employs about 1,100.

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