The Department of Energy (DOE) signed a 40 year contract to sell depleted uranium to a subsidiary of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Global Laser Enrichment LLC (GLE), providing fuel for a uranium enrichment facility proposed for Paducah, Kentucky.
DOE currently stores depleted uranium in approximately 65,000 storage cylinders near the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Western Kentucky. That plant is being shut down. GLE wants to build its plant adjacent to the decommissioned federal facility. GLE plans to enrich the depleted uranium to supply fuel for nuclear plants.
In a statement issued upon announcing the contract, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “The sale contributes to two key Energy Department mission areas — to fulfill the federal government’s responsibility to manage the safe storage and disposal of nuclear materials, and to enable nuclear power, America’s largest source of zero-carbon energy and an important enabler for reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”
Plant Brings Jobs
As reported in Greenwire, DOE’s Paducah plant produced nuclear weapon materials during the Cold War and, subsequently, enriched uranium to commercial power plants until 2013, when it was unable to reach an agreement to continue operations with the site’s manager, the U.S. Enrichment Corp.
Facing pressure to protect jobs in the region from Kentucky’s Congressional delegation, in July 2014, DOE employed more than 1,600 people on a multi-year project to decommission and clean up the plant. GLE’s new plant, the world’s first licensed laser enrichment facility, is expected to employ as many as 1,200 workers.
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) praised DOE for signing the contract, calling it a “positive step forward in an effort to help support future economic growth in Paducah.”
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.