The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) owns and manages an inventory of depleted uranium (DU), natural uranium (NU), and low-enriched uranium (LEU) that is currently stored in large cylinders as depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6), natural uranium hexafluoride (NUF6), and low-enriched uranium hexafluoride (LEUF6) at the DOE Paducah site in western Kentucky (DOE Paducah) and the DOE Portsmouth site near Piketon in south-central Ohio (DOE Portsmouth)1. This inventory exceeds DOE’s current and projected energy and defense program needs.
On March 11, 2008, the Secretary of Energy issued a policy statement (the Secretarial Policy Statement) on the management of DOE’s excess uranium inventory (Appendix A). The policy statement commits DOE to manage all of its excess uranium inventories in a manner that (1) is consistent with all applicable legal requirements; (2) maintains sufficient uranium inventories at all times to meet the current and reasonably foreseeable needs of Departmental missions;
(3) undertakes transactions involving non-U.S. Government entities in a transparent and competitive manner, unless the Secretary of Energy determines in writing that overriding Departmental mission needs dictate otherwise; and (4) is consistent with and supportive of the maintenance of a strong domestic nuclear industry.
In accordance with this policy, DOE proposes to disposition part of its excess uranium inventory using one or a combination of two methods: (1) enrichment to either NU or LEU product, and subsequent storage or sale of the resultant NU or LEU product (the Enrichment Alternative), and (2) direct sale2 to appropriately licensed entities (the Direct Sale Alternative). Under the Enrichment Alternative, DOE could enrich DU to the 235U content of NU (i.e., 0.711 percent 235U), and DOE could enrich DU, NU, and/or LEU (with a current 235U content of less than
4.95 percent) up to 4.95 percent 235U content. This environmental assessment (EA) assumes that the Proposed Action would result in the annual enrichment and/or sale of amounts of the excess inventory that, combined with other DOE sales or transfers to the market, generally would not exceed 10 percent of the total annual fuel requirements of all licensed U.S. nuclear power plants—that is, approximately 2,000 metric tons of uranium (MTU). In some years, the annual amount enriched and/or sold could be greater than 2,000 MTU (for example, due to startup of new reactors, which requires approximately two times the amount of natural uranium needed for subsequent routine re-loads).
As mentioned previously, the excess inventory that DOE currently proposes to disposition is stored as UF6 at the DOE Portsmouth site in Ohio and the DOE Paducah site in Kentucky. DOE also anticipates the potential identification of additional amounts of LEU with a 235U content of less than 4.95 percent. Under the Enrichment Alternative, the uranium could be transported by truck or rail to one or more of three enrichment facilities in the United States or to a foreign enrichment facility. A facility in France is identified as a representative foreign facility for the purposes of assessing potential impacts. Shipments to France could be via any of several east- coast or gulf-coast U.S. ports; however, this EA assumes, for purposes of analysis, that the uranium would be transported by barge to New Orleans, Louisiana, then by ship to France. The LEU product could be stored at up to three U.S. commercial nuclear fuel fabrication facilities (FFFs) in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Washington State, and/or at DOE’s Portsmouth or Paducah sites. When DU is enriched to NU, it would be stored at enrichment facilities in Kentucky, New Mexico, and/or Ohio, and/or at DOE’s Portsmouth or Paducah sites. The DU that would result from the enrichment process, called “DU tails”, would be stored and managed at the enrichment facility or be transported to and stored and managed at DOE’s Portsmouth or Paducah sites.
In this EA, DOE assesses the potential environmental impacts associated with this Proposed Action and a No Action Alternative. The potential impacts of all aspects of enrichment operations and the conversion of DU tails, per se, have been previously addressed in existing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents. This EA focuses on previously unanalyzed impacts: (1) health and safety impacts from transportation of the excess inventory, LEU product, NU, and DU tails; (2) impacts associated with accidents and intentional destructive acts (terrorism, sabotage); and (3) economic impacts of the Proposed Action on the domestic uranium industry.