The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Wednesday, December 20, 2000
Paducah, Kentucky

Probe of foreign uranium suppliers urged
McConnell, Bunning and Whitfield are concerned that overseas firms are damaging USEC by selling cheap uranium.

By Joe Walker

Federal lawmakers from Kentucky have asked the Department of Commerce to investigate allegations that foreign suppliers are using unfair trade tactics to hurt USEC Inc., operator of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and the nation's sole provider of enriched uranium.

Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, are concerned that overseas firms are causing considerable damage to USEC by selling cheap uranium on an already glutted world market. That practice, which drives prices down, is called "dumping." Unlike USEC, foreign competitors are generally subsidized by governments, which allows them to sell more cheaply.

On Tuesday, the legislators wrote Commerce Secretary Norm Mineta, reminding him that USEC petitioned the department earlier this month on grounds that foreign dumping was inflicting serious harm. The letter also was signed by Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, whose district includes Paducah's sister plant near Portsmouth, Ohio. That facility will close in June, in part because of the market glut.

"If foreign suppliers are using unfair trade practices to drive USEC out of business, they must be stopped," Bunning said. "As a nation, we currently receive 20 percent of our power from nuclear energy sources. If USEC stops producing enriched uranium, we will be forced to look to foreign producers in order to keep our nuclear plants running."

Bunning wrote that it would be a "disaster" to become dependent on foreign uranium because the U.S. already has "an unhealthy dependence" on overseas oil.

"The Paducah plant has always been a top priority for me," said McConnell. "I call on the administration to take USEC's complaint seriously, and undertake an investigation into trading practices that may further damage the domestic enrichment industry and its work force."

USEC has come under intense scrutiny for negotiating new contracts at drastically lower prices and buying Russian uranium under a nuclear disarmament agreement at prices lower than USEC plants' production costs. The Paducah plant, employing 1,500, is upgrading and will be the only facility in the nation to enrich uranium once the Ohio plant closes.

Market conditions also affect the price of natural uranium, which has dropped considerably in recent years. Senior managers say the 330-employee Honeywell plant in Metropolis, Ill., may have to close without government price supports. Honeywell, which makes raw product for the Paducah plant, is the only plant in the nation with that capability. General Electric is buying Honeywell in a deal expected to be completed early next year.