Centrifuge Enrichment:

Benefits and Risks

EMD-78-46: Published: Mar 7, 1978. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 1978.

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There are three government-owned uranium enrichment plants in the United States: at Oak Ridge, Tennessee; near Paducah, Kentucky; and near Portsmouth, Ohio. These uranium enrichment plants use gaseous diffusion to enrich the uranium, a technology the government has successfully used for 30 years. Because the capacity of the three plants is fully committed, in 1976 Congress authorized construction of an add-on to the Portsmouth diffusion plant. However, in 1977, the President announced that, instead of the add-on, the Department of Energy would build an equivalent-sized plant using a technology called gas centrifuge.

The advantages of centrifuge technology and the difficulties in obtaining electrical power for a diffusion plant have led to the conclusion that the economic and technological benefits to be gained by using centrifuge technology may be worth the risk. It is uncertain, however, whether the project will be completed within cost and schedule estimates and what role private industry will assume in the project. There does not appear to be a clear advantage to building the plant at either Oak Ridge or Portsmouth. Cost comparisons show a $200 million advantage at Oak Ridge. There will be some disruption associated with a relocation, and any decision on this matter should consider the effect any delay would have on the ability to meet enrichment demand.

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