The uranium plants' aid was set aside when they were privatized, but only aid for Piketon is planned to be released.
By Joe Walker email@example.com
Sen. Mitch McConnell wants Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to give Paducah and Metropolis, Ill., their fair share of $630 million headed to the uranium enrichment plant at Piketon, Ohio, that will close next June.
McConnell wrote Richardson Thursday, asking him to redirect part of the money to the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and its supplier, the Honeywell plant in Metropolis. Together, the plants employ about 2,000 people.
His letter responded to Richardson's announcement a week ago that the funds will go to the Ohio plant to keep it on "standby," build a gas centrifuge demonstration facility and pay workers' severance. The money was set aside when USEC Inc., which runs the Paducah and Ohio plants, was privatized in a stock sale two years ago.
"It is my understanding that the Office of Management and Budget believes there is a total of $725 million available from the USEC fund, leaving $95 million unobligated," McConnell wrote. "I hope you will agree that support for the entire domestic fuel cycle is not only sound economic policy, but in the best interest of our national security."
He expressed "serious concerns" about DOE's legal authority to spend the money without congressional approval, and why DOE didn't use the money to protect the fuel cycle before USEC decided to close the Piketon plant.
Senior managers of ConverDyne, Honeywell's marketing arm, say the Metropolis plant may be forced to close without federal price supports in a depressed market flooded with Russian uranium imported by USEC. Honeywell converts natural uranium into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) and ships the raw product to the Paducah plant for enrichment for use in nuclear fuel.
"Time is running out, and a final decision is imminent on whether to close (the Metropolis plant), which would leave the U.S. without a domestic source of conversion," McConnell said. "Am I to infer, by the absence of a proposal in your ... announcement, that this administration does not support an assistance program to protect the remaining U.S. uranium converter?"
Richardson's Oct. 6 announcement said the Clinton administration would send the money to Ohio to "further protect U.S. energy security." Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, called the news release a ploy to help Vice President Al Gore garner badly needed Ohio votes in his bid to become president.
McConnell wrote that he supports gas centrifuge as an alternative to gaseous diffusion, which is outdated and uses huge amounts of electricity. But he is worried that DOE has decided to deploy centrifuge at Piketon "in direct competition" with the Paducah plant and its workers, he said.
"If it is likely that the Paducah plant will be denied a centrifuge and then forced to compete against the more efficient centrifuge technology, I encourage the department to provide additional community and worker transition benefits to help diversify the area economy that has been so closely tied to this plant," the letter said.
McConnell wrote that DOE should have taken "aggressive steps" to minimize the impact of the Russian uranium, which has played a role in the layoffs of hundreds of Paducah and Piketon plant workers.
He also urged Richardson to:
--Provide $25 million to upgrade the Paducah plant to meet nuclear industry demands and fulfill contracts. The money is needed to make Paducah a stand-alone plant by allowing it to enrich uranium for direct shipment to fuel fabricators, rather than sending the material to Piketon to finish enrichment.
--Make converting 57,000 cylinders of UF6 waste at Paducah a priority. McConnell sponsored legislation mandating that job-producing conversion plants be built at Paducah and Piketon, but DOE has delayed the project nearly two years.
--Invest part of the money for health testing of Paducah plant neighbors, considering that newly released DOE maps show the presence of highly radioactive plutonium in the environment more than a mile from the plant. McConnell also demanded a response why the data had not been disclosed to plant workers and the public.