The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, July 19, 2002

Wording of bill may bring DOE site to Paducah
An anti-terrorism spending bill going to President Bush calls for the construction of nuclear plants here and in Piketon, Ohio.

By Joe Walker

An anti-terrorism spending bill headed to President Bush's desk has stronger wording to force construction of plants at Paducah and Piketon, Ohio, to convert tons of hazardous waste into safer material.

The bill was approved Thursday by the House-Senate Conference Committee. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, who drafted the waste component, said he expects both houses to easily pass the legislation and send it to Bush within a week.

McConnell's language requires the Bush administration, through the Department of Energy, to:

Build facilities in both communities to convert spent uranium hexafluoride (UF6) into safer material that might be used commercially. Some DOE officials have argued that initial legislation passed in 1998 does not require construction of even one plant. McConnell has criticized the Energy Department and Office of Management and Budget for repeated delays during the past four years.

"I think it will be difficult for OMB's lawyers to argue that this isn't a mandate," he said of Thursday's action.

Award a contract, within 30 days of Bush's signature, to any of the firms whose bids were under review when the department stopped the process Jan. 15.

Start construction by July 31, 2004 six months after the date set in the original law.

Seek adequate annual funding to ensure completion of the project, estimated at $1 billion to build two plants and run them about 20 years. The Bush administration says it could save $100 million by building just one facility. Funding has been uncertain even though Congress set aside about $373 million for the work.

McConnell, a senior member of the Committee on Appropriations, had the language included last month in the Senate version of the bill. Although the House version excluded the provision, the language survived in the reconciled version, thanks to the efforts of Reps. Ed Whitfield and Hal Rogers of Kentucky, McConnell said.

Each plant is expected to create hundreds of construction jobs and about 150 long-term jobs while converting billions of pounds of hazardous, corrosive material. The UF6 is stored in about 60,000 steel cylinders, some of which are rusting. Most are at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

After months reviewing bids for a two-plant project, the Energy Department abruptly stopped the contract-letting in January. The three finalists were told Feb. 28 that DOE was changing the process to seek costs for one plant, as well as two. The department said it hoped by January 2003 to decide the number and location of plants to be procured.

After the decision, and once DOE decided on any changes to requirements, the agency planned to again amend the bid requests to "firms in the competitive range," the letters continued. Bidders would then be allowed to submit revised proposals.

The letters marked the latest of recurring DOE delays since the 1998 legislation.