Piketon, Ohio has been involved with nuclear materials since the early 1950s, when it was selected as the site of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The site had a number of physical attributes that made it suitable for such a use – it had a vast quantity of flat land, plenty of reliable water, and lots of local coal fired electrical power.
The plant came on line in 1956 at a cost of approximately $750 million, considerably below the initial estimate of $1.2 Billion.
(Aside: I guess there were planners in those days that adhered to my budgetary philosophy – Under promise, over deliver. When it comes to money, that means providing generous estimates and then beating them. There is always uncertainty in large, complex projects; their potential for ultimate success should not be hampered by optimists in the estimating stages.)
The current owner of the Portsmouth site – USEC (formerly known as the United States Enrichment Corporation) – shut down the enrichment operations in May of 2001 and laid off a whole bunch of talented people. In June of 2002, the company shifted more operations away from Portsmouth to their Paducah, Kentucky facility and put even more local people out of work. The area lost some great manufacturing jobs and is looking for ways to leverage the site, the work force (with its knowledge base), and the coming nuclear renaissance into an economic boon.
One opportunity that seems to be a natural fit is hosting a fuel recycling facility. As a first step in that direction, some Piketon leaders have sought and received a DOE grant to participate in studies that are part of the GNEP (Global Nuclear Energy Partnership) program to find a suitable site for a large, government sponsored recycling facility.
Of course, there are some detractors. (No one involved in the nuclear renaissance should forget that there will always be opposition – some people simply like to slow progress, others have invested their entire careers into the anti nuclear industry, and still others have competitive economic reasons for spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about a strong competitive energy source like uranium (or plutonium) fission.)
In an article titled Future of GNEP site in Piketon still in question there is a journalistically balanced discussion of the various points of view. Piketon is not the only site that is interested in hosting the GNEP facility, and the whole program might have difficulty receiving the funding that will be necessary, but I think that the area has at least one current advantage – Ohio provided the winning margin of victory for the current Administration.
I really like the fact that politicians, the nuclear industry and the Department of Energy have begun using the more accurate term of “recycling” for the process of recovering the valuable materials that are left over after initial fuel burning in old fashioned light water reactors. Perhaps they have taken my advice from one of my old Atomic Insights articles (either directly or via other repeats).
- Opposition to reprocessing – Are the Reports Always True?
- Recycling: Practice What You Preach
- Delay Does not Indicate a Crisis
Of course, I could just be being vain. Perhaps they have taken talking points from one or more of the guest columnists that have published their work on the Atomic Insights site over the years.
- A case for using more nuclear energy by Dr. Jerry Cutler
- Civilization and the Significance of Nuclear Development by Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb
- Why Throw Away a Priceless Resource
by Theodore Rockwell, author of The Rickover Effect and Creating the New World (both of which are components of my atomic library)
Atomic Insights readers should never forget – because I often repeat myself – that the “waste” from the second generation plants that are now operating still contains about 95-97% of the initial potential energy of the uranium feedstock and that all of the long half life materials that seem to be of such concern to anti-nuclear activists are still potentially useful fuel. Essentially all of the fission products – those materials that are the resulting output from heavy metal fission – have short half lives that result in complete isotopic stability within a few hundred years. That is not a long time to imagine storing a small volume of waste material in carefully designed containers.
(Aside – I know that at least a few readers will agree with my claim that even fission products are not waste – they rare materials with unique and useful physical properties that can be quite valuable if they can be extracted and refined.)