‘First-of-its-kind’ scanning facility begins operations at former Paducah uranium enrichment site
Officials with the U.S. Department of Energy recently announced that a newly completed scanning facility at the former Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant will allow for safer handling and disposal of old processing equipment used in the site’s ceased uranium enrichment operations.
The main feature of this new facility – which began operations in January – is its built-in, first-of-its-kind scanning apparatus: the Large Item Neutron Assay System, also known as LINAS. The facility will allow site workers to collect more accurate measurements on potential deposits of uranium left over in the processing gas equipment taken from the former McCracken County nuclear energy enrichment site, ensuring that the equipment is prepared for safe disposal.
DOE officials have collaborated with scientists and technicians from Four Rivers Nuclear Partnership since the project’s launch to ensure its success. Construction began on the scanning facility in fall 2021 and wrapped up in late 2023. In a press release, FRNP Program Manager Myrna Redfield said the system’s implementation at the Paducah site was “a big step forward” in terms of both technical advancements and workers’ safety.
LINAS works by using Helium-3 Detector Tubes to measure the levels of neutron particles emitted by uranium deposits held inside the equipment. The detector tubes – according to a DOE release – were sourced from FRNP’s Oak Ridge Environmental Management Program, allowing them to be reused for another environmental project. Those resulting measurements will then determine how the agency can properly and safely dispose of the equipment.
Once a piece of equipment is placed in the measuring chamber, LINAS performs nondestructive assay (NDA) measurements in order to quantify the levels of retained radioactive material. In the past, this equipment would have to be cut open in order for workers to collect accurate measurements. However, the implementation of LINAS means that this step is no longer necessary, and that site workers will be better protected from potential radioactive contamination.
Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office Manager Joel Bradburne said that this system will help aid the safe removal of equipment from the far western Kentucky site’s 1.1 million square foot C-333 building, one of four such buildings at the plant that was used to enrich uranium.
“The ability to collect precise measurements of process gas equipment is critical as we continue to move forward with work in the C-333 Process Building to maximize the efficiency of the deactivation project,” Bradburne said in a press release.
In a release, DOE officials called the scanning technology “the most accurate measuring system in the world,” and said LINAS can measure uranium deposits in “a fraction of the time” compared to other large component measuring methods.
In December 2023, the site’s project team successfully measured and scanned the first piece of processing gas equipment taken from its C-333 Process Building.
Once the C-333 Process Building has been fully deactivated and demolished, the rest of the on-site process buildings will follow suit. The site’s Public Affairs Lead Yvette Cantrell said that any land parcels currently occupied by processing buildings will eventually be returned to the community on a rolling basis and repurposed for community development projects.
“All of those buildings will be taken down, and we fully expect that we will be able to transfer quite a bit of that land back over to the community for economic development opportunities in the future,” she said.
Cantrell added that any areas that need to remain under federal control will be transferred to the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management.
The overall cleanup project is expected to be completed by 2065, although Cantrell said the team is currently looking for ways to improve that schedule.