LEXINGTON, Ky. – The conversion plants at EM’s Paducah and Portsmouth sites surpassed a fiscal year 2013 goal by converting 13,679 metric tons of depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6), more than doubling production a year earlier.
EM’s Portsmouth Paducah Project Office (PPPO) and contractor Babcock & Wilcox Conversion Services LLC (BWCS) began operations in 2011 to convert the nation’s 800,000-metric-ton inventory of DUF6 to more benign forms for sale, ultimate disposal or long-term storage.
“Since 2011, we have been ramping up production to determine and achieve the safe, sustainable operating rate of the plants,” said George E. Dials, BWCS president. “From an initial conversion of 270 metric tons in fiscal year 2011, when we demonstrated that the lines were operational, we have now converted more than 20,000 metric tons.”
“Our goal now is to surpass a total of 22,700 metric tons processed in fiscal year 2014, an increase of 60 percent,” Dials said. “For the past 30 months we have been ramping up production and adjusting and modifying the plants and equipment to determine the rate that can be safely sustained in continuous operations. In this fiscal year, we will be adjusting systems to increase reliability and availability, which will account for the increased production.”
“BWCS is continuing to pursue operating and support maintenance plans to achieve maximum safe performance,” said Jack Zimmerman, federal project manager at EM's Portsmouth Paducah Project Office. “Improvement is a continuous and iterative process, and the ongoing ramp-up strategy calls for gathering data under variable operating conditions and making adjustments throughout the year.”
“This is a real milestone for this start-up project,” Dials said of the fiscal year 2013 achievement. “Naturally, we encountered many challenges as we began operating these two new manufacturing facilities, and have dedicated much creative energy and forensic engineering to solving production and systems issues. The projects are now clearly demonstrating their value in the cleanup of the nation’s environmental materials.”
The DUF6 plants — each employing approximately 200 people — were originally designed to operate for up to 25 years. It is expected to take 18 to 30 years to convert the extensive inventory of DUF6 generated by six decades of uranium enrichment at the gaseous diffusion plants located on the same sites as the conversion facilities.
B&W Conversion Services, LLC, is a single purpose company formed by Babcock & Wilcox and URS in 2011. Headquartered in Lexington, Ky., BWCS was created to safely and effectively operate the DUF6 plants.