Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant:
A Challenge in Progress
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP), located in far Western Kentucky, was the last operating government-owned uranium enrichment facility in the country. Plant enrichment operations began in the early 1950s as the initial uranium enrichment step for Cold-War weapons development and a growing nuclear power industry. The now-antiquated gaseous diffusion process was used to produce low-enriched uranium at the PGDP and required extensive water, power, and cooling infrastructure. Site process operations utilized up to 32 million gallons of water per day and reportedly consumed as much electricity as the cities of St. Louis and New York City. The uranium feedstock stored at the PGDP for recycling comprises the largest stockpile of mined uranium in the world.
Plant operations, maintenance, and process upgrades generated waste materials disposed in site landfills and burial grounds as well as waste fluids released to site waste & water systems, treatment lagoons and surface waterways. Leaching of disposed materials contaminated site soil and groundwater resulting in the largest documented trichloroethene (TCE) and technetium-99 groundwater plumes in the DOE complex and are among the largest TCE plume systems in the world. The number of source areas contributing to soil, surface water and groundwater contamination along with the depth, contaminants and geochemistry of the site's groundwater pose world-class technical and regulatory challenges for compliance, oversight and cleanup.
For over 6 decades of enrichment operations, the PGDP has contributed billions of dollars to the local economy through employment and local business. During the 1950s as many as 29,000 construction workers and tradesmen were employed in the construction of the PGDP facility and two nearby power plants required to supply electricity for PGDP operations. PGDP employed an average of 1700 skilled workers and scientists during enrichment operations and continues to employ more than 1500 highly skilled workers to secure enrichment operations infrastructure, implement plant decontamination & decommissioning, and conduct environmental restoration activities. The largest employer in the region is now shut-down conducting decommissioning and environmental restoration work and the local community is facing the challenges of re-thinking and sustaining a thriving economy.
The Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and Environment (KRCEE) was created to offer innovative & technically sound solutions to problems facing the environmental restoration and continued economic use of the PGDP and its surrounding areas. KRCEE is administered by the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) and managed by professional staff and faculty at the University of Kentucky.