Kentucky legislators want DOE to formulate plan for Paducah
Washington (Platts)--10Feb2012/422 pm EST/2122 GMT
Three US lawmakers want Energy Secretary Steven Chu to formulate a plan
by February 28 for the Department of Energy to produce uranium for commercial
nuclear fuel from a stockpile of uranium "tails" stored at the Paducah
uranium enrichment facility in Kentucky.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Rand Paul, and
Representative Ed Whitfield, all of Kentucky, urged Chu in a February 9
letter to use existing DOE authority to enrich the uranium before the plant
is "forced" to stop operating in May, when plant operator USEC's power supply
USEC warned employees in December that Paducah may close because USEC
had not reached agreement on a new contract to buy electricity, a deal on
re-enriching the tails, or a determination that there would be sufficient
demand for enriched uranium produced at Paducah.
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The tails, now being stored at the site, are leftover from the
enrichment process. That process separates uranium into two streams: one with
a higher concentration of the fissile U-235 isotope needed for reactor fuel,
and tails, which have a lower concentration.
Re-enrichment would subject the tails to the process again, boosting the
U-235 concentration in one stream while further depleting it in the other.
The legislators, citing the Government Accountability Office, said
re-enriching the tails could generate "billions in revenue" and could
partially offset the cost of placing the Paducah plant in cold storage.
They said they have worked closely with the uranium mining and
conversion industries, which supply uranium to enrichment facilities, to
forge an agreement on re-enriching the tails that would provide "long-term
certainty in their respective markets." And they said "continued inaction is
Paducah, built in the 1950s, uses gaseous diffusion to produce enriched
uranium. USEC had planned to replace Paducah by building the American
Centrifuge Plant in Ohio. Centrifuges require much less energy, and therefore
can operate at lower cost. But USEC has not yet been able to secure a DOE
loan guarantee to help offset the estimated $2.8 billion cost of constructing
the new plant.
--Maureen Conley, firstname.lastname@example.org