The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Saturday, July 07, 2001

Electric utilities could force USEC out of uranium enrichment business


EDITOR: Once again, the future of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant is in question. This time the "enemy" is a consortium of electric power utilities. If they get their wish from the Bush administration, hundreds of USEC employees here in western Kentucky could find themselves without a job in the very near future.

Several years ago USEC was appointed as the exclusive executive agent for the United States with Russia on the "Swords to Plowshares" uranium deal. The federal government required USEC, as part of privatization, to purchase Russian enriched uranium at noncompetitive prices. Although this was good for national security, it greatly hindered USEC's early economic viability.

Now USEC has the opportunity to purchase Russian uranium under a new deal at more competitive prices. This deal will help USEC balance out some production costs and remain an economical, domestic source for uranium enrichment.

Unfortunately, a group of electric power utilities are asking the administration to appoint another executive agent with Russia. If the administration were to do this, the effect would be devastating to USEC. These utilities could outbid USEC for the Russian material, causing USEC to be forced out of the uranium enrichment business. Ultimately, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant would have to be closed and the employees laid off unless the federal government intervened on behalf of USEC.

Furthermore, the administration may be ignoring the effect on national security and the requirements of the 1992 Energy Policy Act. The appointment of a second agent could force the only operating uranium enrichment plant in the United States to shut down. The federal government could allow this to happen all for the sake of improving utility profits.

Our elected officials have been unusually quiet about this depressing scenario. The nuclear industry press has reported that the administration is "leaning towards the utilities." If this is the case, it is time that the elected officials from Kentucky start lobbying the Bush administration. I don't think the politicians want to experience what their peers in Ohio went through when the Portsmouth plant was shut down.

I call on Sens. Bunning and McConnell and Rep. Whitfield to stop the Bush administration from appointing a second agent for the Russian uranium. If a few utilities have their way, western Kentucky could experience the shutdown of the Paducah plant a lot sooner than expected.

STEPHEN COWNE

Paducah