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
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
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
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
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
and its surrounding areas.
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.