The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Wednesday, January 31, 2001
Paducah, Kentucky

Whitfield, panel seek Bush review of uranium deal
The Clinton administration deal gave USEC permission to buy already enriched uranium, which plant workers say threatens their jobs.

By Bill Bartleman bbartleman@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650
Members of a congressional committee are asking the Bush administration to review a last-minute decision by the Clinton administration to allow USEC Inc. to import more processed nuclear fuel from Russia.

USEC Inc. is the broker for a specific amount of Russian weapons grade uranium, as part of an agreement to keep the uranium away from countries that might use it to build nuclear weapons. USEC processes the uranium to the grade needed to fuel nuclear power generating plants.

In the final days of the Clinton administration, the Enrichment Oversight Committee agreed to an amendment allowing USEC to purchase civilian-produced enriched uranium that is ready for use in power plants.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, and other members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote a letter to Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, requesting the Enrichment Oversight Committee review its earlier decision.

The EOC was formed to oversee implementation of the U.S./Russian Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Agreement. The committee, chaired by Rice, has some new members who are part of the Bush administration. The lawmakers are asking for a staff briefing on the review by Feb. 5.

Members of Kentucky's congressional delegation, the labor union representing workers at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and others have criticized the decision by the Clinton administration, contending it will cause production cuts in Paducah and eventually the loss of jobs.

They also allege it is part of a plan by USEC Inc., the nation's only supplier and producer of nuclear fuel, to eventually stop all domestic production and become a broker of foreign-produced fuel. Critics say that would result in the United States becoming too dependent on foreign sources and jeopardize national security interests.

USEC denies the allegations, saying the amended agreement with Russia would result in lower prices for the imported nuclear fuel, which would help make USEC more competitive in the world market.

Whitfield says the amended agreement is a bad deal.

"We are concerned that this 'side agreement' is inconsistent and dilutes the important non-proliferation objectives of the HEU agreement," Whitfield said. He added that the original agreement involves highly enriched uranium from dismantled nuclear weapons, while the new agreement involves commercially produced fuel for power plants.

"Our top priority must be to maintain a domestically produced uranium supply," Whitfield said. "The HEU agreement has already jeopardized our production capabilities and this side agreement could do even further harm. This is a case of what's good for USEC may not be good for Paducah, Portsmouth, the U.S. uranium production industry and our national security."

USEC already has announced plans to end production in Portsmouth in July, which could leave 2,000 workers without jobs.

In addition to Whitfield, the letter to Rice was signed by Energy and Commerce Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, R-La.; ranking member John Dingell, D-Mich.; Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas; and five other congressmen.