Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce receives DOE grant

June 6, 2023, 12:00PMRadwaste Solutions
The Paducah site. (Photo: DOE)

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management has awarded a $2 million grant to the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce for its work in considering the possible future uses of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant site in Kentucky. The project will consist of site mapping, community studies, data analysis, and development of recommended strategies.

The grant will be administered over a three-year period, which began on June 5 and will run through December 31, 2025.

Cleanup: The DOE’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office oversees environmental cleanup at the Paducah site, where uranium enrichment operations ceased in May 2013.

“Placing the future vision of the former Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant site in the hands of the community allows DOE to align cleanup strategies to promote sustainable redevelopment,” said Joel Bradburne, manager of the Portsmouth and Paducah Project Office.

Some history: According to the DOE, the Atomic Energy Commission in October 1950 selected a former World War II munitions plant near Paducah, then known as Kentucky Ordnance Works, as the site for the second of three planned uranium enrichment plants in the United States. The other two enrichment plants were located near Portsmouth, Ohio, and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

The Paducah plant was first used to enrich uranium for military reactors and the nation’s nuclear weapons program. Later, it supplied enriched uranium for commercial power plants. The plant is owned by the DOE, but from 1993 until October 2014 it was leased to the United States Enrichment Corporation. Today, DOE-EM oversees the environmental cleanup activities at the site, including environmental management, waste management, depleted uranium hexafluoride conversion, and decontamination and decommissioning.

Before World War II, the area now occupied by the Paducah site was used for agricultural purposes, according to the DOE. Numerous small farms produced various grain crops, provided pasture for livestock, and included large fruit orchards. During World War II, a 16,126-acre tract was assembled for the construction of the Kentucky Ordnance Works, a trinitrotoluene (TNT) production facility, which subsequently was operated by the Atlas Powder Company until the end of the war. Ultimately, the land was turned over to the General Services Administration.

In 1950, in response to Cold War challenges, the U.S. government began efforts to expand fissionable material production. Due to national security concerns, President Harry S. Truman directed the AEC to expand further production of atomic weapons, with a provision for a new gaseous diffusion plant.

Eight government-owned sites initially were selected as candidate areas, the DOE noted. On October 18, 1950, the AEC approved the Paducah site for uranium enrichment operations and formally requested the Department of the Army to transfer the site from the General Services Administration to the AEC. In October 1951, construction of the plant began. Although construction was not complete until 1954, production of enriched uranium began in 1952.

Uranium enrichment operations ran continuously for more than 60 years at Paducah. The DOE selected a deactivation contractor in July 2014. Deactivation activities are underway to prepare Paducah for decontamination and decommissioning.

More information about the Portsmouth site’s cleanup is available online.

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