The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved plans by USEC to return the remainder of the Portsmouth gaseous diffusion enrichment plant to the Department of Energy (DoE). Meanwhile, the 'standstill agreement' for USEC's American Centrifuge Plant has been extended by one month.
USEC is preparing to terminate the lease under which it assumed operation of the plant from the DoE in 1993. The main process buildings were transferred back to DoE control in September 2010, and USEC is preparing to transfer the remainder of the facility, including NRC-regulated material, back to the DoE. At that point, the DoE will take over regulation of the plant and NRC regulation will no longer be necessary. NRC says it will terminate the plant's Certificate of Compliance once it has received and verified certification from USEC that all material has been transferred to DoE's possession and proper accounting of all safeguarded nuclear material has been ensured.
The Portsmouth plant operated from 1954 to 2001, originally as part of the USA's nuclear weapons complex, but producing fuel for commercial nuclear plants from the 1960s. Owned by the DoE, it was transferred to USEC when that company was created and later privatized in the 1990s. USEC terminated enrichment operations at Portsmouth in 2001, after a programme to consolidate enrichment operations at Paducah was completed. The plant was then maintained in a cold standby mode.
Limited cleanup activities have been underway at the vast Ohio site since the 1990s. In August, the DoE awarded a $2.1 billion contract to Fluor Corp and Babcock and Wilcox (B&W) for the next stage of decommissioning, which will involve decontamination and demolition of the three massive process buildings, each of which has a footprint of more than 30 acres (12 hectares) and contains thousands of stages of uranium enrichment equipment. Contaminated soils and groundwater will also be cleaned up and remediated.
USEC's Lead Cascade and American Centrifuge Plant (ACP), which are under construction at the Ohio site, are unaffected by the termination of the certificate for the gaseous diffusion plant, and remain under NRC license and regulation.
Meanwhile, USEC's board of directors has voted to continue the company's investment in the ACP during the month of October, but at a reduced spending rate as it continues working with the DoE to achieve a conditional loan guarantee commitment for the project by 1 November. USEC said that it is instructing suppliers to suspend certain work and notifying workers of possible future layoffs.
USEC president and CEO John Welch said, "Working with our strategic investors, we expect October to be a month of intense interaction with the DoE." He added, "Absent a conditional commitment by the end of October, layoffs of employees and further actions with suppliers are likely to occur."
USEC said that it had entered into an amendemnt to extend its standstill agreement with its two strategic investors - Toshiba and B&W - until 31 October, providing additional time to achieve a conditional commitment and close the $50 million second phase of their $200 million investment in USEC.