The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Patton puts priority on new plant
Danny Orazine says the governor is on top of efforts to assure the gas centrifuge test plant's location in Paducah.

By Joe Walker

Local leaders say the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant's 50th anniversary festivities later this month will be the backdrop for Gov. Paul Patton to present a final proposal for new technology to preserve at least one-third of the plant's nearly 1,500 jobs.

Patton and Economic Development Secretary Gene Strong are expected to present the incentive package to William Timbers, chief executive officer of plant operator USEC Inc., on Oct. 24 before the golden anniversary celebration at the Paducah riverfront.

McCracken County Judge-Executive Danny Orazine said Patton and his staff will provide details in closed meetings Oct. 23 with local legislators and Oct. 24 with community leaders. Orazine and a few other local leaders met with Patton on Friday in Frankfort for an update on the proposal, due Oct. 25.

"He didn't get into any specifics," Orazine said. "I guess we were really trying to gauge the governor's demeanor to see how focused he was on it. I assure you, they (state officials) are on top of this as much as they can be. This is the biggest economic development project in the state right now."

Orazine said he and others wondered if Patton would be distracted by the avalanche of publicity surrounding his admitted affair with Clinton businesswoman Tina Conner.

"That was our normal, human reaction, but I didn't sense that in the meeting," Orazine said. "I've been around the governor a lot in the last seven years. He was very focused and well-versed on the proposal. Sometimes you deal with problems by burying yourself in your work."

Orazine said Patton "knows he personally needs a win, and I think that's another driving force."

Patton said late last month that he was spending considerable time fine-tuning the incentive package to attract the plant, which will test gas centrifuge technology for enriching uranium. Paducah and Piketon, Ohio, are vying for the 50-job plant, to be operational by 2005. USEC will decide by late November or early December where it will build the plant.

The company says whoever gets the test plant will have a distinct advantage over the other community in landing a $1.5 billion, 500-job commercial plant by the end of the decade. The commercial plant will eventually replace the outdated, energy-intensive gaseous diffusion process used at Paducah.

Also attending Friday's meeting were Ken Wheeler, chairman of a local nuclear energy task force, and Leon Owens, task force member and president of the Paducah plant energy workers' union. Both said Patton was clear that the proposal was the top economic development issue statewide.

"The long-range goal is to ensure the commercial facility is also sited in Paducah," Owens said.

Wheeler said the University of Kentucky and Kentucky Geological Survey have started a state-funded seismic study that could help land the plant, whose tall cylinders spin at high speed and are very susceptible to shaking. The task force is concerned about the potential added cost of making the plant earthquake-resistant in Paducah, which is above the New Madrid Fault.

The study will consider those issues as part of a broader look at U.S. Geological Survey maps that generate county-by-county seismic design values. Experts say the national maps are generalized, hard to interpret and donít take into account conditions unique to various regions, such as western Kentucky.

"We believe the risk as portrayed in the hazard maps of the USGS is probably overestimated," said John Kiefer, assistant state geologist. "We're not saying the maps are wrong, but there are different ways of looking at it and still coming up with a level of risk that is safe yet would allow us to build a structure at reasonable cost."

Kiefer said seismometers will be installed throughout the Paducah area to measure tiny, deep movements in the earth to assess the local seismic risk better. "We're targeting the new plant, but it's a critical issue for any kind of development in western Kentucky," he said.

Kiefer said he doubts the results will be ready in time to affect the test plant incentive package, although he hopes to have meaningful data by the end of the year. The state survey team will meet Nov. 18 in Lexington with various interested people ó notably the USGS staff and those who developed international building codes that impose much tougher seismic standards ó to offer some alternatives, he said.

Wheeler said the "real significance" of the findings is to influence the decision-making process for the commercial plant in 2004.