In 1950, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), a predecessor agency to DOE, selected a 3,556-acre tract of government-owned land near Paducah, Kentucky, in McCracken County, as the location to construct a second gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment plant (GDP) to support U.S. national security needs. The Paducah GDP enriched uranium from 1952 to 2013 and was the last government-owned uranium enrichment facility operating in the United States. The Paducah GDP produced low-enriched uranium originally as feedstock for nuclear weapons materials and later for commercial nuclear power plants.
Environmental cleanup of the Paducah GDP began in 1988 when groundwater contamination resulting from plant operations was discovered outside of the DOE property. Environmental cleanup includes remediation of groundwater, surface water, soil, lagoons, and burial grounds. All of the more than 500 facilities and buildings will be evaluated for removal and/or remediation, including four process buildings measuring more than 74 acres under roof.
The Paducah Site is also home to one of two DOE DUF6 conversion plants. DUF6 was a byproduct from the uranium enrichment operations at the three enrichment plants in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Portsmouth, Ohio; and Paducah, Kentucky. DOE has a total inventory of approximately 67,000 steel cylinders at the Portsmouth and Paducah sites. At Paducah, the DUF6 conversion facility began operation in 2011.
Planned Cleanup Scope 2021–2031
At Paducah, work over the next decade will continue to focus on remediating a trichloroethylene (TCE) groundwater contamination plume, along with activities to prepare the site’s former uranium enrichment process buildings for demolition.
In 2021, the Paducah Site will complete a major milestone in right-sizing utilities to meet future cleanup needs. DOE is expected to complete construction of a new Tennessee Valley Authority substation and tie-line connecting to the plant, allowing the site to significantly reduce electrical usage. Additionally, this action will kick off the deactivation of the C-531 switchyard for potential reuse. DOE will continue deactivation activities in the C-333 building by removing and dispositioning process gas equipment components and other activities to facilitate hazard removal; and in the C-710 technical services building by characterizing, removing, and dispositioning fissile material and equipment from the building. In addition, the site will continue to remove hazardous refrigerant stored in rail cars to improve the overall safety posture of the site.
For the upcoming years, DOE will perform fieldwork associated with the characterization and remediation of the C-400 Complex Operable Unit, the highest environmental priority at the site. The C-400 Complex includes the C-400 Cleaning Building, which utilized TCE for cleaning equipment. The complex is the primary source of the TCE groundwater contamination that was discovered off the DOE property in 1988. DOE will work with federal and state environmental regulators to perform remedial investigation activities, developing and reaching consensus on final remedial actions, and preparing and implementing the remedial action work plans. In 2024, DOE anticipates a ROD to identify the final remedial action for the C-400 Complex. The demolition of the C-400 Cleaning Building in 2027 will facilitate this action.
Over the coming decade, DOE plans to complete deactivation work at the C-333 Process Building, one of the four large process buildings at the site. These activities include hazard removal (including refrigerant, chemicals, fire hazards, etc.), characterization of the components within the facility, and other actions to prepare the C-333 Process Building for demolition. Paducah is also expected to begin the regulatory documentation process to determine the waste disposal options associated with demolition of the process buildings and balance of plant cleanup activities.
In 2021, 2,500 metric tons of inventory at the DUF6 conversion plant will be processed. Over the next 10 years, the plant expects approximately 73,500 metric tons of DUF6 material will be converted, and approximately 21 million gallons of hydrogen fluoride will be shipped off-site for commercial use.
Key Regulatory Milestones 2021–2031
Cleanup activities at Paducah are covered by Federal Facilities Agreement between DOE, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the EPA.
- Complete RI/FS for C-400 final remedial action — October 2022
- Complete proposed plan for C-400 final remedial action — April 2023
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