The U.S. Department of Energy’s Officer of Environmental Management (EM), charged with addressing the country’s Cold War legacy, said this week that the program to convert uranium hexafluoride (DUF6) into a more stable form had converted more than half of the 9,000 metric ton annual goal for 2019 in just the final quarter of 2018.
The office said the program was off to a “strong start following improvements.” From October to December, with all seven of its conversion production lines all going, the program converted 5,100 metric tons of depleted DUF6, “well over halfway to its goal of 9,000 metric tons for fiscal 2019,” the EM said.
The stockpile, which totals 800,000 metric tons of DUF6, comes from gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment plants in Ohio and Kentucky. In Portsmouth, Ohio, the plant operated until 2001, while in Paducah, Kentucky, the facility there closed in 2013.
The stockpile built up through 60 years of operations at the processing facilities. The conversion plants, meanwhile, were commissioned in 2010 and have converted 70,000 metric tons to date, according to the EM website.
Production, however, has been slowed by “pauses for safety and maintenance purposes,” the EM said. Last fall, the program, contracted to Mid-America Conversion Services since February 2017, “returned all seven” of the conversion production lines to service.
The converted DUF6 remains on the two sites in Paducah and Portsmouth. However, the EM has opened an environmental impact study on future disposal choices for public comment, which ends February 11.
The EM has three alternative sites it is considering for long-term storage of the converted DUF6, including Clive, Utah at the EnergySolutions LLC site, Nye County, Nevada at the Nevada National Security Site and Andrews, Texas, at the Waste Control Specialists facility.
At the conversion facilities, the EM noted improvements. In operations and maintenance prime contractor Mid-America Conversion Services “surpassed 3-million work hours without a time-lost injury.” In addition “Crews prepared the 100-millionth pound of aqueous hydrofluoric acide co-product for recycling.” In addition, “cylinder transfer systems and cylinder evacuation rooms began operations to address non-standard DUF6 storage cylinders.”
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