For more than 50 years, the U.S. enrichment industry has relied on the gaseous diffusion process for uranium enrichment. USEC used this first-generation enrichment technology at its Paducah, Kentucky, plant and is deploying gas centrifuge technology to replace these operations.
Between the 1960s and 1985, the U.S. government developed a centrifuge uranium enrichment technology to ultimately replace gaseous diffusion. This U.S. centrifuge technology used a gas centrifuge machine with a long rotor and a high rotational speed.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) successfully demonstrated this technology and was prepared to deploy it. DOE invested $3 billion over 10 years to develop the centrifuge technology, built approximately 1,500 machines and accumulated more than 10 million machine hours of run time. U.S. centrifuge technology, however, was ultimately not commercially deployed for reasons unrelated to the technology itself and further development and deployment was suspended in 1985.
Development and deployment of gas centrifuge designs by European and Russian companies in the subsequent decades have proven the reliability and performance attributes of centrifuge technology for uranium enrichment.
Since 2002, USEC scientists, engineers and contractors at testing and development facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, have improved the DOE technology through advanced materials, updated electronics and design enhancements based on highly advanced computer modeling capabilities.
The first new centrifuge component tests began in 2003 and the first tests of a full-size centrifuge began in 2005. These centrifuge tests were conducted in specially equipped test stands in Oak Ridge.