By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
Congress and the Clinton administration should admit that privatization of the uranium enrichment industry has been a failure and take action to return it to government control, Democratic congressional candidate Brian Roy said.
"Both sides were wrong on this issue, and everyone can see that we are in a crisis situation," Roy said Wednesday. "We don't need people writing letters blaming each other. What we need is a bipartisan effort to save the industry and save jobs in western Kentucky."
Congress in 1996 approved an administration-backed bill that privatized the uranium enrichment industry that it had operated for 50 years.
Since 1997, nuclear fuel production facilities in Paducah and Portsmouth, Ohio, have been operated by the United States Enrichment Corp.
USEC has faced severe financial problems that have caused massive layoffs at both plants. The USEC board also may consider closing one of the plants.
Roy, former Marshall County sheriff, accused his opponent, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, of playing politics with the issue. Earlier this week, Whitfield and five other members of Congress sent a letter to President Clinton asking the administration to be proactive in efforts to save the domestic uranium enrichment industry.
Whitfield had no comment Wednesday on Roy's remarks. "We are not going to comment on anything so ridiculously political," Whitfield said through his press secretary, Anthony Hulen.
Roy said the letter implies that Clinton is to blame for USEC's problems and to blame for failing to take action to correct problems. "Privatization was a mistake which Ed Whitfield and Bill Clinton both supported," Roy said.
Roy said it is time to admit that a mistake was made and take action to correct the mistake.
"I would sponsor legislation to take privatization away and bring government back into the process," Roy said. "That has got to happen, and happen soon, or the entire domestic production will be gone."
Roy said the privatization was "doomed for failure from the beginning" because of provisions in the privatization act that requires USEC to buy nuclear weapons grade uranium from Russia at inflated prices, and that restricted one individual or company from owning more than 10 percent of the USEC stock.
Roy said allowing a large stock holding by a individual or company would cause that stockholder to become heavily involved and work harder to make the company a success.
Roy said the congressional intent of requiring USEC to buy Russian uranium was to reduce the number of nuclear warheads in Russia. He said that goal has been moderately successful.
Buying Russian uranium also cause a flood on the American market, which caused reductions in domestic production at the Paducah and Portsmouth plants.
"It was a great opportunity for Russia to make a lot of money, but it was made on the backs of the working people," Roy said.
Roy noted that USEC managers have proposed a plan to reduce production even more and become a broker for enriched uranium produced in Russia. He said that would be a mistake because it eventually would lead to the closing of both plants.
"We cannot become dependent on foreign countries for our nuclear fuel," Roy said.