Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and the Environment (KRCEE)

PGDP: 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 active gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment facility in the country.  Plant operations began in the early 1950’s as the initial uranium enrichment stage for Cold-War weapons development and a growing nuclear power industry.   The now-antiquated gaseous diffusion process is used for uranium enrichment at the PGDP and requires an extensive water, power, and cooling infrastructure.  Site process operations utilize 11 million gallons of water per day and are reported to consume as much electricity as the cities of Nashville and St. Louis.  The uranium feedstock stored at the PGDP for enrichment and 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.  Leaking and 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 the world.  The number of source areas contributing to soil, surface water and groundwater contamination and the depth, contaminants and geochemistry of the sites groundwater plumes pose world-class technical and regulatory challenges for compliance, oversight and cleanup.

For over 6 decades, the PGDP has contributed billions of dollars to the local economy through employment and local business. During the 1950’s as many as 20,000 construction workers and tradesmen were employed in the construction of the PGDP facilities.  More than 1,700 skilled workers and scientists continue to be employed at the PGDP to manage, run and maintain the enrichment operations, implement plant decontamination and decommissioning, and conduct environmental restoration activities.  The largest employer in the region is now slated for shut-down and decommissioning leaving local communities with the challenges of re-thinking and sustaining a thriving economy.

The Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and Environment (KRCEE) was created in 2003 through the efforts of Senator Mitch McConnell and the Kentucky Congressional Delegation to offer innovative and 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.