The government has transferred nearly 120 million pounds of depleted uranium from a processing plant in Tennessee to a southern Ohio facility, three years ahead of schedule and within budget.
The uranium hexafluoride was left over from the government’s uranium enrichment process for nuclear weapons and fuel at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Operations ended there in 1985, and the site is currently being cleaned up to be an industrial park.
Tennessee began transferring the slightly radioactive material in 2004 to Piketon, Ohio, where the compound will be processed into a more stable form for long-term storage. The process also will extract hydrogen fluoride that can be sold commercially, officials said.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation had ordered the Department of Energy to remove the uranium hexafluoride by Dec. 31, 2009.
The project removed about 6,000 cylinders, some weighing as much as 14 tons, and trucked them to the Piketon facility at a cost of $27.5 million.
The cylinders, kept in an outside storage yard that required daily security and maintenance, posed the highest radiation threat to visitors at the Tennessee site, said John Owsley, the environmental oversight chief in Oak Ridge.
“While there were sufficient controls in place, it was a concern,” Owsley said.
No major safety issues arose during transportation, said Susan Gawarecki, executive director of the Local Oversight Committee, which evaluates environmental projects for local governments in the Oak Ridge area.
After the waste was trucked to Ohio, hundreds of empty cylinders were shipped to disposal sites in Nevada or Utah.