DOE reduces chemical hazards at Kentucky’s Paducah Site

July 5, 2023, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions
Paducah Site deactivation crews use negative air machines to open sodium fluoride traps. (Photo: DOE)

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management recently shipped for off-site disposal 14 sodium fluoride traps, or exchange vessels, from the C-310 Product Withdrawal facility at the DOE’s Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant site in Kentucky. DOE-EM said it has also eliminated the site’s entire inventory of chlorine gas cylinders.

The work is part of the DOE’s 10-year goal of reducing chemical and other hazards at the former uranium enrichment plant as it prepares for the demolition of the plant buildings. Uranium was enriched at the 3,556-acre Paducah site from 1952 to 2013, and it was the last government-owned enrichment facility operating in the United States.

NaF traps: To prepare the sodium fluoride traps for off-site shipment, workers for DOE-EM site contractor Four Rivers Nuclear Partnership (FRNP) used insulated ovens to heat the uranium hexafluoride contained in the traps so that it could be compliantly transferred to storage vessels. The UF6 removed from the traps will be sampled and tested to determine if the material can be repurposed for future use.

“To remove the sodium fluoride traps, our team had to utilize complex equipment that had not been used for nearly a decade. That presented challenges that I’m proud to say our team successfully overcame,” FRNP program manager Myrna Redfield said.

The two-story, 13-acre C-310 facility building was used to extract gases and enriched uranium produced by Paducah’s processing facility. According to DOE-EM, removal of the traps reduces the risk of a chemical release in the building.

EM workers prepare a chlorine cylinder to be removed from the Paducah Site. (Photo: DOE)

Cl cylinders: Paducah eliminated its chlorine gas inventory after FRNP’s recent conversion of the site’s water and sewage treatment plants’ disinfection systems from chlorine gas to sodium hypochlorite. This allowed the site to be removed from state and federal high-hazard chemical registers, EM said.

“Because sodium hypochlorite poses fewer hazards to workers and the environment, this transition and the removal of the chlorine gas cylinders greatly reduces the amount of surveillance and maintenance activities associated with these systems, which will result in future cost savings,” said Joel Bradburne, manager of the Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office.

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