The three finalists to convert uranium waste in Paducah and Piketon, Ohio, to safer material were asked to extend their bids through Feb. 28.
By Joe Walker firstname.lastname@example.org
Although the reasoning was unclear, industry sources said Department of Energy officials asked the bidders Thursday for an extension through February.
"That is correct," said Elizabeth Stuckle, spokeswoman for USEC Inc., one of the finalists. "We have been asked by DOE to extend our bid to be valid through Feb. 28."
USEC, operator of the Paducah uranium enrichment plant, submitted a bid as American Conversion Services, formed by USEC and the environmental firm CH2M Hill.
Other finalists are Jacobs COGEMA, formed by Jacobs Engineering Group and COGEMA; and Uranium Disposition Services, formed by Framatome ANP (Advanced Nuclear Power) Richland, Duratek Federal Services and Burns and Roe Enterprises.
The Energy Department has been silent since abruptly canceling the planned Jan. 15 announcement of a winner after months of bid reviews. No explanation was offered. Repeated attempts on Friday and in recent days to reach Joe Davis, a DOE spokesman in Washington, D.C., were unsuccessful.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, authored the 1998 legislation to build facilities to convert about 14 billion pounds of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) waste at Paducah and its sister plant in Piketon. Delayed repeatedly, the project was designed to clean up the material while creating roughly 150 jobs in each community to offset enrichment plant layoffs.
When the announcement stalled, McConnell spoke with DOE and Office of Management and Budget officials regarding concerns with the project. McConnell declined comment when he was in Paducah Tuesday to announce he is running for a fourth term.
U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, who helped steer the legislation through the House, blamed OMB for "dragging its feet on the cost" of the project and some DOE officials for continuing to oppose it. He made the statements Jan. 18 when he visited Paducah to announce he will seek re-election.
Whitfield and others speculate the OMB, Congress’ financial arm, has continuing concerns about the expense and scope of the work, expected to cost at least $1 billion and create several hundred construction jobs. Legislation setting aside $373 million for the work requires it to start by Jan. 31, 2004.
Officials of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers (PACE) International, whose members have first rights to the conversion work, have said they understand the delay is largely because of a disagreement over how many plants should be built. They say OMB apparently favored no plants and DOE favored two, after which the OMB responded it would back a one-plant plan.
That reportedly favored Paducah, because about two-thirds of the roughly 60,000 UF6 cylinders are here, and inflamed the Ohio delegation. The Piketon enrichment plant closed last summer.
Leon Owens, president of the PACE local representing nearly half the Paducah plant's 1,500 workers, said Friday he had not been notified of the bid extension. "We haven't been given any other indication, and the union is still committed to a two-plant strategy," he said.