Babcock & Wilcox Conversion Services (BWCS), has been awarded a five year, $428 million contract to deconvert depleted uranium hexafluoride from America’s Paducah and Portsmouth enrichment facilities.
The limited liability company BWCS, made up from Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Group (B&W TSG) and consulting company URS, has been purpose-formed to manage the contract using deconversion facilities at the two sites. The deconversion capacity at Portsmouth and Paducah is 13,500 tonnes and 18,000 tonnes of UF6 per year respectively.
B&W TSG president Robert Cochran commented: “We look forward to working at Paducah and Portsmouth with the same high standards of safety and operational rigor that we apply throughout the company and have demonstrated at the other government sites we operate.”
Portsmouth has now stopped uranium enrichment operations, but Paducah continues to enrich and has a nameplate capacity of 8 million separative work units per year – about one fifth of current global capacity. Both are gaseous diffusion plants that began life in the 1950s and have contributed the majority of the enriched uranium used in US nuclear power plants. They are owned by the US Department of Energy (DoE) and operated by USEC. Paducah is not due to shut down before the new USEC American Centrifuge enrichment project comes online in Ohio.
Deconversion is seen as necessary, since it will transform the toxic and somewhat corrosive gaseous UF6 enrichment tailings into a stable powdered oxide form fit for long-term storage, transport or final disposal.
According to the Depleted UF6 Management Information Network run by Argonne National Laboratory, the DoE has a growing inventory of over 704,000 tonnes of UF6. Unless sent for further enrichment, all of this would eventually need to be deconverted and permanently stored.
Researched and written by World Nuclear News