The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, March 01, 2002

DOE delays UF6 plants again
Now, bids are sought for only one site — Paducah or Portsmouth — to convert the cylinders, instead of two as had been sought earlier.

By Joe Walker

The U.S. Department of Energy has delayed a decision on two long-sought uranium waste-conversion facilities at least another year by asking the three finalists to submit cost estimates for only one plant at Paducah or Portsmouth, Ohio.

DOE sent letters Thursday to the finalists saying it will amend bid requests seeking costs not only for two plants, which bidders had already submitted, but for one plant. The letters seek cost comparisons of building a plant at Paducah vs. Portsmouth, and ask bidders to attend a meeting Wednesday in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to talk further.

"We plan to use this additional information to assist the department in making a decision on the number and location of plants to be procured," said the letter from Don Sloan, chairman of DOE's Source Evaluation Board. "We hope to make that decision by January 2003."

After the decision, and once DOE decides on any changes to requirements, the agency plans to again amend the bid requests to "firms in the competitive range," the letter continues. Bidders would then be allowed to submit revised proposals.

The letter marks the latest of repeated DOE delays since Congress passed a 1998 law mandating that construction of two plants, at Paducah and Portsmouth, start by Jan. 31, 2004, and requiring operation by 2007. Kentucky lawmakers who pushed the legislation took issue with DOE's tactics.

"My goal has never changed — we need to move forward and eliminate the environmental hazards associated with continued storage of the hazardous cylinders," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville. "Building conversion plants in both Paducah and Portsmouth is the quickest way to accomplish this goal.

"While I am disappointed with the continued delay which continues to surround this effort, I am committed to pursuing a plan which will allow Paducah to construct a conversion facility."

Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, said, "I still feel the plan to build two plants is the best approach in terms of protecting the environment, creating new jobs and saving taxpayers' dollars. This project must move forward."

Dolline Hatchett, an Energy Department headquarters spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., did not return a telephone message Thursday afternoon.

Finalist American Conversion Services — composed of USEC Inc., operator of the Paducah uranium enrichment plant, and environmental firm CH2M Hill — received the letter, said USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle. "We're studying what's been required of us."

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.

Some DOE officials have argued the law merely requires the agency to prepare a plan for the facilities. But Whitfield and other lawmakers say it explicitly requires two plants to convert about 60,000 cylinders of depleted uranium hexafluoride (UF6) into safer material for potential commercial use. Each plant is expected to create 150 to 200 jobs.

After repeated delays over four years, DOE pledged to name the winning bidder Jan. 16, but abruptly asked bidders that day to extend their offers through the end of February. Congressional sources and energy workers' union officials said the stalling apparently stemmed from disagreements between DOE and the Office of Management and Budget over how many conversion plants should be built, despite the federal mandate.

Phil Potter, Washington-based policy analyst for Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers (PACE) International, said earlier that the delay apparently was largely due to disagreement over how many plants should be built. He said the OMB apparently favored no plants and DOE favored two, after which OMB responded it would back a one-plant plan.

Potter also said Paducah was considered the favorite for a one-plant plan because it has about two-thirds of the cylinders. The rest are at closed enrichment plants at Portsmouth and Oak Ridge, Tenn. Potter said the Ohio delegation would continue fighting for two plants.

In a visit to Paducah two weeks ago, U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate, said he favored two plants. But he warned economic development officials that if Paducah got the conversion facility in a one-plant scenario, it might lose demonstration gas centrifuge technology to Portsmouth as a trade-off.

"If you’re concerned about not receiving new technology, you have reason to be concerned," he said. "Paducah needs to receive the new technology in order to remain competitive, and I have talked to USEC (the plant operator) about that."