The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, operated by the United States Enrichment Corporation, a subsidiary of USEC Inc., is the only U.S.-owned and operated uranium enrichment facility in the United States.
Uranium enrichment began in the early 1940s as a United States defense initiative to produce fissionable material for the atomic bomb. The enrichment program was eventually transferred to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and the nation's first gaseous diffusion plant, K-25, at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, went on line in 1945.
In December 1950, the Paducah site (the location of the former Kentucky Ordnance Works) was chosen from a short list of eight locations for construction of a new gaseous diffusion plant. It was speculated that Vice President Alben Barkley, a former Kentuckian, may have helped tip the scales toward the selection of the Paducah site.
F.H. McGraw and Co. of Hartford, Connecticut, was awarded the construction contract while Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Co. was named operating contractor for the more than $800 million project.
The original plant design was completed and in operation two months ahead of schedule, with the first production cells going on line in September 1952. The first enriched uranium product withdrawals were made in November 1952 and the first 2.5-ton product cylinders with partially enriched uranium were shipped to Oak Ridge.
In the 1960s, the Paducah plant's mission changed from enriching uranium for nuclear weapons to one focused on producing fuel for commercial nuclear power plants. Until recently, Paducah and its sister plant located near Portsmouth, Ohio, worked together to enrich uranium for use in nuclear power plants. In May 2001, USEC consolidated its enrichment operations at Paducah. The following year, transfer and shipping operations were also consolidated at Paducah.
Paducah Plant Timeline
|December 1950||U.S. government selects former Kentucky Ordnance Works site in Paducah for new uranium enrichment plant.|
|December 1950||U.S. officials name Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Co. (now Union Carbide) to operate plant.|
|September 1952||First production cells go "on stream."|
|November 1952||Operator withdraws first product and ships it to Oak Ridge.|
|Mid-1960s||Plant shifts from military mission to commercial focus, supplying enriched uranium to electric utilities operating nuclear power plants.|
|January 1975||Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Energy Research and Development Agency (ERDA) assume AEC functions. NRC takes over regulatory oversight of nuclear power plants and ERDA assumes responsibility for uranium enrichment.|
|October 1977||Government transfers ERDA functions to newly- created Department of Energy (DOE).|
|April 1984||Martin Marietta Energy Systems, Inc. takes over Union Carbide's operating contract for plant.|
|October 1992||Energy Policy Act creates USEC to take over government's uranium enrichment enterprise.|
|July 1993||USEC assumes responsibility for Paducah, Kentucky, and Portsmouth, Ohio, uranium enrichment plants. DOE retains responsibility for environmental restoration and waste management activities resulting from its operations at the site.|
|July 1993||USEC contracts with Martin Marietta Utility Services, a newly created subsidiary of Martin Marietta, for operation and maintenance of enrichment plants.|
|June 1995||Lockheed Martin Corp. forms after merger of Lockheed and Martin Marietta corporations. Lockheed Martin Utility Services, Inc. (LMUS) continues operation of USEC's Paducah and Portsmouth plants.|
|June 1995||Paducah plant reaches record two million man-hours of work without a lost workday.|
|November 1995||USEC revises and renews operating contract with LMUS from cost-plus to performance-based contract.|
|November 1996||NRC grants certificates of compliance to USEC's two enrichment plants.|
|March 1997||Regulatory oversight of enrichment plants officially transfers from DOE to NRC.|
|July 1998||USEC is privatized, becomes USEC Inc., an investor-owned corporation.|
|May 1999||USEC takes over direct operation of Paducah and Portsmouth GDPs.|
|June 2000||USEC announces plan to consolidate all enrichment activity at Paducah by June 2001.|
|March 2001||NRC amends operating certificate for the Paducah plant, permitting it to enrich uranium at levels up to 5.5% uranium-235.|
|April 2001||USEC completes Paducah assay upgrade program, enabling Paducah plant to enrich uranium at levels up to 5%.|
|May 2001||USEC ceases enrichment activities at Portsmouth plant. Portsmouth continues to provide transfer and shipping functions.|
|June 2002||USEC completes consolidation of transfer and shipping operations at Paducah.|
|October 2002||Paducah plant celebrates 50th anniversary of operations.|