Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant History

Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant under construction

The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio, was operated by the United States Enrichment Corporation, a subsidiary of USEC Inc. The plant had a long history of enriching uranium for defense and commercial nuclear power needs until operations ended in 2001. Today Piketon is the site for USEC's next-generation uranium enrichment facility: the American Centrifuge Plant.

Uranium enrichment began in the early 1940s as a U.S. 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 August 1952, the AEC selected a tract of land in the Ohio Valley along the Scioto River in Pike County for the site of the Portsmouth gaseous diffusion plant. Site selection was based on the availability of a vast expanse of relatively flat terrain--the original tract was 4,000 acres--as well as availability of large amounts of electrical power, a dependable source of water, local labor and suitable transportation routes.

In March 1956, the plant was completed six months ahead of schedule by construction contractor Peter Kiewett Sons of Nebraska at a cost of $750 million, considerably less than the estimated $1.2 billion construction cost. Construction required 69 million man-hours, more than 68,000 drawings and as many as 22,500 construction workers at its peak in the summer of 1954. More than 1,200 acres were cleared and more than 4.5 million cubic yards of earth were moved.

In the 1960s, the Portsmouth plant's mission changed from enriching uranium for nuclear weapons to one focused on producing fuel for commercial nuclear power plants. Until 2001, Portsmouth and its sister plant in Paducah, Kentucky, worked in tandem to enrich uranium for use in nuclear power plants. The Paducah plant enriched uranium up to 2.75% and then shipped it to Portsmouth for further enrichment to approximately 4% - 5%.

In May 2001, USEC consolidated its enrichment operations at Paducah. The following year, transfer and shipping operations were also consolidated at Paducah.

Portsmouth Plant Timeline

August 1952 U.S. government selects Pike County site for new Portsmouth uranium enrichment plant.
September 1952 U.S. officials select Goodyear Tire & Rubber Corp. as plant operator. Goodyear creates Goodyear Atomic Corp. to operate plant.
September 1954 First production cells go "on stream."
March 1956 Contractors complete entire Portsmouth plant six months ahead of schedule, and full production begins.
Mid-1960s Plant shifts from military mission to commercial focus, supplying enriched uranium to electric utilities operating nuclear power plants.
January 1975 U.S. 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).
November 1986 Martin Marietta Energy Systems, Inc. takes over Goodyear'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 First shipment to USEC of Russian low-enriched uranium derived from highly enriched uranium taken from nuclear warheads arrives at Portsmouth plant as part of historic Megatons to Megawatts program.
November 1995 USEC revises and renews operating contract with LMUS from cost-plus to performance-based contract.
November 1996 NRC grants certificates of compliance for 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.
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.
November 2002 Portsmouth plant recognized as an ANS Nuclear Historic Landmark by the American Nuclear Society.
December 2002 USEC announces that it will site its American Centrifuge Demonstration Facility in Piketon.
January 2004 USEC announces the selection of Piketon as the site for its future American Centrifuge Plant. This commercial uranium enrichment facility is planned to have an annual production level of 3.8 million SWU.
September 2011 USEC ends its lease with DOE for the gaseous diffusion plant facilities at the Piketon site.

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