X-326 Facility Manager Jack Tully, left to right, DOE Site Lead Joel Bradburne and Operator Russ Nickell stand in the local control room after the last processing equipment that had been operating in the uranium enrichment cascade at the Portsmouth site in Piketon was shut down.
The last equipment that had been operating in the uranium enrichment cascade at the Portsmouth site in Piketon was powered off May 30 after more than 57 years of operation. Pictured here is the facility where that equipment is located.
The switch to the last operating cell at the uranium enrichment facility was manned by Operator Russ Nickell during the shutdown at midday May 30, 2012 in the X-326 Process Building at the Portsmouth site in Piketon.
PIKETON, Ohio – EM and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency are reviewing decontamination and decommission (D&D) approaches for three buildings that housed the equipment for uranium enrichment that was shut down this spring after operating for 57 years.
Decisions on D&D of the facilities could be made within the next year, following a public comment
period. Workers have completed pre-D&D work in one of the buildings that included moving about
50 converters to a staging area in preparation for the eventual D&D of the processing equipment,
and ultimately, the building itself. In all, more than 400 buildings and systems are expected to be
part of the D&D project.
The buildings, called the X-326, X-330 and X-333 process buildings, housed the uranium enrichment cascade, which took up nearly 100 acres of space. The last of the equipment that had been operating as part of the cascade was powered off May 30, 2012.
“This cascade and all of its supportive systems are a tremendous legacy of the engineering prowess and ingenuity of our communities and our nation,” DOE Site Lead Joel Bradburne said at the time of the shutdown. “More than half of a century of successes and achievements will never
The cascade at the former gaseous diffusion plant at the Portsmouth site was a network of converters that processed a supply of uranium hexafluoride (UF6). The uranium was enriched at the atomic level to make it useable fuel for nuclear reactors. The converters were machines
connected by an elaborate path of piping through which the UF6 was fed in a heated gaseous state. Converters and related equipment were arranged in groups called cells.
Preparations for the shutdown began in January after completion of a cleanup and treatment program for the equipment. The last cell was one of the high-speed cells used to separate uranium from the lighter gasses.
The enriched uranium was originally used by the Department of Defense. Later operations produced fuel for the U.S. Navy and civilian power plants. The first cells of the cascade were brought online in 1954.
Over the cascade’s lifetime, more than 1 billion pounds of uranium were processed, filling nearly 40,000, 14-ton cylinders.
The cascade was placed in cold standby status in 2001 in the wake of newer technologies and changes in market demand for enriched uranium. The plant was placed in cold shutdown in 2005 as DOE began planning decontamination, decommissioning and site cleanup. Fluor-B&W
Portsmouth assumed cleanup contractor duties in March 2011.
Facility Shift Supervisor John Hutchison said the shutdown was significant to the employees, many of whom had worked together for more than a decade.
“There are a lot of mixed emotions among the operators. They’re sad to see the X-326 being shut down,” Hutchison said at the time of the shutdown. “There’s a lot of activity to support operations.”
When it was time to shut the cell down, Operator Russ Nickell verified personnel were in place on the cell floor and in the local control center. Watching the instrument panel, a small crowd waited for needles on the gauges to reach zero before Nickell pushed the “Motor Stop” button and the motors on the cell floor came to a halt.
“That’s it. Lights are out. We’re done,” Nickell said.