Piketon, Ohio, was chosen in 1952 for the third site in the federal government's gaseous diffusion program.
KEEPING PACE WITH THE COLD WAR
For approximately 50 years, the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant at Piketon, Ohio, supported federal government and commercial nuclear power missions. In the early 1950s, the Atomic Energy Commission sought to dramatically expand its production of enriched uranium for military purposes—nuclear submarines and weapons—and to provide fuel for a burgeoning nuclear power industry.
Considering the area's abundant water resources and labor force, and availability of reliable electrical power and transportation routes, Piketon, Ohio, was chosen in 1952 to complement the federal government's gaseous diffusion program already well under way at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Paducah, Kentucky.
Construction of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant began in late 1952 with a mission to increase the national production of enriched uranium and maintain the nation's superiority in the development and use of nuclear energy. The first enrichment diffusion cells went on line in 1954, and the facility was fully operational in March 1956. The enriched uranium was required for both government and commercial uses. With America's nuclear stockpile well prepared to address any potential national security challenges, the mission at the Portsmouth site begin to change. In the 1960s, the site took on a more commercial focus, enriching uranium mainly for nuclear power plants.
POST COLD-WAR URANIUM ENRICHMENT
The continuing work to enrich uranium for the nuclear Navy ceased in 1991. In 1993 the production facilities were leased by DOE to the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC)—now Centrus Energy Corporation—to restructure and transition the government's uranium enrichment operations for nuclear power plants to the private sector. From 1991 until production ceased in 2001, the Portsmouth plant produced only low-enriched uranium for commercial power plants. In 1993, uranium enrichment operations were turned over to USEC in accordance with the Energy Policy Act of 1992. In 2000, uranium enrichment production was terminated at the Portsmouth Site. Some of the facilities were no longer required by USEC and subsequently returned to DOE. Uranium enrichment activities at Portsmouth concluded in May 2001.
PREPARING FOR DECOMMISSIONING
For 10 years, DOE contracted with USEC to maintain the gaseous diffusion plant in a safe configuration. Initially, the process equipment was kept in Cold Standby, capable of restart if the need arose. Eventually, the plant transitioned to Cold Shutdown where systems were permanently disengaged and equipment was prepared for eventual decommissioning.
In 2011, USEC transitioned contractual obligation for the gaseous diffusion plant to DOE’s contractor for decontamination and decommissioning.
Portsmouth Virtual Museum
DOE launched the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant Virtual Museum website, www.portvirtualmuseum.org, to preserve the rich history of its southern Ohio plant that supported the nation’s nuclear weapons program. The public can view photos, watch interviews with current and former workers who share historical accounts, and browse old newsletters on the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant from as far back as the early 1950s with the touch of a computer keyboard or screen.