LEXINGTON, Ky. – EM recently launched long-planned systems to help safely handle the disposition of non-standard storage cylinders containing depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6) at its Portsmouth and Paducah gaseous diffusion plant sites.
The DUF6 conversion facilities at Piketon, Ohio, and Paducah, Kentucky transform DUF6 into a more stable form of uranium for eventual disposition. The newly operational cylinder transfer system (CTS) and cylinder evacuation room (CER) will allow plant operator Mid-America Conversion Services (MCS) to process cylinders that do not meet the requirements or specifications for normal processing due to damage, corrosion, overfilling, or unusual size.
The CTS and CER allow operators to heat the contents of the non-standard cylinders differently than the plants’ 14 vaporization systems used for standard cylinders. Approximately 8 percent of EM’s remaining 750,000-plus metric tons of the Cold-War-era uranium-enrichment byproduct is in non-standard cylinders.
“Standing up these systems to process non-standard cylinders is vital to completion of EM's cleanup mission on schedule at both sites,” said Reinhard Knerr, the DUF6 project’s federal director for the Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office (PPPO). “The CTS/CER systems were specifically designed to process those types of cylinders.”
PPPO oversees EM’s environmental cleanup efforts at Portsmouth and Paducah that began in the late 1980s, as well as the DUF6 conversion plants. The DUF6 project converts the material to depleted uranium oxide — a slightly radioactive crystalline powder suitable for long-term storage or disposal — and hydrofluoric acid that is recycled for commercial use. The conversion plants began operating in 2010 at the Portsmouth Site and 2011 at the Paducah Site, and have processed approximately 62,000 metric tons of DUF6 to date.
The DUF6 cylinders typically measure about 12 feet by 4 feet and weigh more than 10 tons when full. All cylinders undergo regular maintenance and testing by MCS to determine their level of structural and operable integrity.
The MCS team, led by CTS/CER project manager Sarah Sykes, recently brought both the Paducah and Portsmouth CTS systems up to operational status individually in a phased sequence under EM oversight.
“Starting the CTS/CER system is a significant milestone for the life-cycle of the DUF6 Conversion Project,” said Fred Jackson, DUF6 deputy project manager and chief engineer for MCS. “Led by operations and engineering, every department contributed to the successful launch of this important system. We are very proud of everyone and their accomplishment."