The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

USEC set to bargain again to end the strike
The plan to meet anew with PACE leaders comes as a new uranium deal with Exelon, the nation's leading nuclear power company, is announced.

By Joe Walker

Having rejected a union contract proposal, USEC bargainers tentatively plan to meet Friday with workers' leaders to try to iron out differences and end a strike entering its 19th week.

"A contract proposal cannot be negotiated in separate pieces, but as one proposal in its entirety," USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said. "It appears now as if medical is the major differing point. We hope we're getting closer together and that soon a vote can be taken on a complete package that will resolve the strike."

USEC had termed the proposal unacceptable after union members voted to approve it Thursday. Union leaders said going into the vote that health insurance was the major sticking point and a rejection by USEC would require more bargaining and a new vote.

The formal rejection came Tuesday as USEC announced nearly a $700 million deal as primary supplier of enriched uranium to Exelon Generation Co., the nation's leading nuclear power company. Subject to Exelon approval, the contract would supply 17 nuclear reactors from 2005 to 2010.

"During that period, the majority of the enriched uranium that will be provided to Exelon will come from the Paducah plant," Stuckle said. "Through efficient operations at the plant and agreements such as this, the plant can better compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace."

Also Tuesday:

USEC bought another full-page ad in the Sun clarifying its contract position, particularly on medical insurance and costs. The ad cited low costs for union workers compared with other energy and chemical companies. Union officials have said the plant is unique because workers deal with both radiation and chemical risks.

USEC President and Chief Executive Officer William "Nick" Timbers visited Paducah briefly to present an award to a worker and "walk the plant" to thank employees for their hard work, Stuckle said, noting that the visit was unrelated to the strike.

Timbers reached the Exelon deal recently during talks with counterpart Oliver Kingsley Jr. at the utility's headquarters in Chicago.

"This agreement will strengthen and extend USEC's long-term partnership with Exelon, the nation's leading nuclear utility," Timbers said. "Exelon is our largest customer, and we look forward to supplying nuclear fuel needs into the next decade and beyond."

Kingsley, president and CEO of Exelon, cited a "strategic partnership" allowing his company to play a key role in USEC's purchase of uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads, as well as USEC's use of gas centrifuge technology. Exelon reactors produce about 20 percent of all nuclear power in the nation.

Aside from being a USEC's largest customer, Exelon is a competitor as part of Louisiana Energy Services, a consortium trying to build a gas centrifuge plant near Nashville, Tenn.

USEC plans to start building a 500-job gas centrifuge plant by about 2010 in Piketon, Ohio, or Paducah. The centrifuge operation would replace the outdated Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which Stuckle noted will supply enriched uranium through the end of the new Exelon deal.