Enriched uranium fuel supplier USEC on Tuesday struck a deal with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA, a federal agency), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA, a federally owned corporation), and Energy Northwest (a municipal corporation of Washington State) to extend uranium operations at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Paducah, Ky., for at least another year.

The 60-year-old plant, which is owned by the DOE but leased and operated by USEC, is the largest uranium enrichment plant in the U.S., accounting for nearly all its enriched uranium production. The plant was scheduled to close at the end of the month, however.

Under the deal, the DOE will provide 9,000 metric tons of high-assay depleted uranium hexafluoride (also known as tails) to Energy Northwest. The tails will then be re-enriched into 480 metric tons of low-enriched uranium at USEC’s Paducah facility under a contract between Energy Northwest and USEC. The work, combined with other ongoing USEC commercial obligations, will require approximately 5 million separative work units.

A portion of this low-enriched uranium produced at Paducah will then be used at Energy Northwest’s Columbia Nuclear Generating Station, and the remainder will be sold to the TVA for use in that utility’s reactors (including reactors used to produce tritium for the nation’s nuclear deterrent). The TVA is expected to generate power for the re-enrichment under an agreement to extend the existing USEC-TVA power contract.

Before agreeing to enter into the project, the DOE undertook an analysis of the domestic uranium market to ensure that the transactions under the project would not have an adverse material impact on the domestic uranium mining, enrichment, or conversion industry.

Republican Kentucky lawmakers Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul, and Rep. Ed Whitfield  had strongly opposed the Obama administration’s plans to shutter the plant and had been pushing since 2007 to have depleted uranium processed there to extend the facility’s life. Paul said the 1,200 jobs would be saved for “one, final year.”

“The transfer will deliver important benefits to U.S. national security and the Department’s cleanup missions, as well as providing commercial benefits to each of the collaborating organizations and continuing operations for a year at the Paducah site,” the DOE said in a statement on Tuesday.

The DOE’s approval of the transaction on Tuesday followed approvals by USEC, TVA, and Energy Northwest boards of directors.

Sources: POWERnews, USEC, DOE