The American Centrifuge Demonstration Facility at the Piketon, Ohio, site is located in a portion of an existing process building that will ultimately house the American Centrifuge Plant.
In August 2007, USEC began the Lead Cascade test program at the facility, an integrated testing phase of the American Centrifuge technology involving multiple machines in a cascade configuration.
The license issued by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the demonstration facility specifies that the machines be operated in a closed-loop configuration where the uranium gas is enriched, depleted and recombined in a repetitive cycle. The demonstration facility license permits test samples of enriched uranium to be withdrawn through a mass spectrometer. The ability to separate uranium isotopes is tested by analyzing these samples.
In a centrifuge enrichment facility, a cascade is a group of centrifuge machines connected in a series and parallel arrangement to achieve an intended isotope separation capability. A commercial uranium enrichment facility that uses gas centrifuge technology is made up of multiple cascades.
The number and arrangement of centrifuge machines in a cascade can vary. The initial cascades tested during the Lead Cascade test program consisted of fewer machines than would ultimately be in a commercial cascade.
The current research, development & demonstration (RD&D) program supports building, installing, operating, and testing commercial plant support systems and a 120-machine cascade that would be incorporated in the full commercial plant in Piketon, Ohio, which is planned to operate 96 identical cascades.
USEC has achieved a number of key objectives through the Lead Cascade test program, including:
- demonstrating the capability of the cascade to generate product assays in a range useable by commercial nuclear power plants,
- providing information on machine-to-machine interactions and integrated efficiency of the full cascade,
- confirming the design and performance of the centrifuge machine and cascade support systems,
- verifying cascade performance models under various operating conditions,
- providing information on the performance of centrifuge components over time, and
- giving operators and technicians hands-on experience assembling, operating and maintaining the machines.
The Lead Cascade test program in Piketon began operations in August 2007 and has accumulated more than 1.8 million machine hours of runtime. Data from this testing program has provided valuable assembly, operating and maintenance information, as well as operations experience for the American Centrifuge Plant staff. The initial lead cascade test program involving USEC-produced prototype machines was completed in early 2010.
Continued lead cascade operations will accomplish two of the primary objectives of the RD&D program. The first objective is to demonstrate sufficient run time on the AC100 centrifuges to establish the high confidence level in cascade reliability required by DOE to support loan guarantee financing for the commercial plant. A second objective is to build out and demonstrate the full level of balance of plant system redundancy designed for the commercial plant.