DOE to consider recycling contaminated Portsmouth nickel

April 18, 2023, 3:00PMRadwaste Solutions
Demolition of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant’s X-326 building was completed in June 2022. (Photo: Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth)

As part of its ongoing cleanup work, the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management is looking into the potential reuse of approximately 6,400 tons of radiologically surface-contaminated nickel that has been removed from the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Ohio. DOE-EM began decommissioning the Portsmouth plant, one of three Cold War–era gaseous diffusion plant in the United States, in 2011.

On April 12, DOE-EM’s Portsmouth Paducah Project Office issued an expression of interest (EOI) seeking industry input for operationally mature technologies that would support the recovery of the nickel.

According to DOE-EM, the information gathered from the EOI will be used to determine whether it is in the department’s best interest to have industry remove the radiological contamination from the surface of the nickel to produce a high-purity nickel product that may be released for use in commerce in accordance with DOE standards. The deadline for industry responses to the EOI is August 10.

Acquisition strategy: According to DOE-EM, the information it gathers may also be used in the future to develop an acquisition strategy for commercial-scale processing of the nickel to remove the surface contamination and support DOE initiatives such as clean energy or zero-emission vehicles (e.g., electric vehicles or grid-scale batteries).

The EOI is only applicable to nickel that has some level of surface contamination from uranium enrichment operations and is therefore not subject to the DOE’s moratorium on the release of volumetrically contaminated metals. The EOI focuses on viable technologies for the Portsmouth site first, as material from the demolition of plant process buildings is available now.

The criteria: The information may be used to support the development and implementation of an acquisition strategy for potential material recovery and processing, pending the following:

  • Successful technical validation of the proposed process (including verification testing).
  • Completion of an economic assessment by the DOE of the proposed approach demonstrating, if appropriate, the overall advantages of the initiative.
  • An acceptable strategy to address the classified aspects of the nickel during recovery and any processing.
  • The development of an acceptable regulatory approval and environment impact evaluation approach.

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