The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, August 21, 2003

USEC requests bids for centrifuge plant
Kentucky andOhio now begin the finishing stages of their competition to get the new gas centrifuge plant.

By Joe Walker

Kentucky and Ohio economic development leaders are now in stretch-run competition for a gas centrifuge plant that will replace the 1,200-job Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

The Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet and the Ohio Department of Development have received bid requests from USEC Inc. for the $1.5 billion gas centrifuge plant, which will be fully operational about 2010 and employ roughly 500. USEC mailed the proposal package Friday, said company spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle.

"Everything in it is protected by confidentiality agreements signed by the states," she said. "We will announce later this year where the commercial site will be."

Although local officials expect the decision to come as early as October, Stuckle said the timing depends on the extent of bid-related questions and answers.

USEC has accelerated the schedule for the project and will be a year ahead by the time the commercial plant opens. The firm will open a 50-job demonstration plant in Piketon, Ohio, in 2005 and start building the commercial plant in 2006.

If Paducah gets the commercial plant, the community must overcome key disadvantages that caused it to lose to Piketon in bidding for the test plant. Unlike Paducah, Piketon presents no major earthquake concerns and has had a test centrifuge plant mothballed for nearly 20 years. Starting next year, USEC will refurbish the Piketon plant, using as many as 240 centrifuges that spin at high speed to enrich uranium for use in nuclear fuel. Centrifuge needs only a fraction of the massive electrical power used by outdated gaseous diffusion. Stable seismic conditions are critical to centrifuge, and Paducah is in the New Madrid Fault area.

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, said Paducah's advantages are the quality work force, efficiency and public support that led USEC to close the Piketon diffusion plant and consolidate enrichment here.

"Paducah is tailor-made for centrifuge," he said. "Not only do we have a dedicated and qualified work force already in place, we have the community support and state backing necessary to make the centrifuge investment in our area worthwhile. I will do whatever I can in conjunction with all interested local and state parties to make this happen."

J.R. Wilhite, who led Kentucky’s 2002 bid for the test plant, said last month that the faster schedule should not hinder putting an incentive package together for the commercial plant. He said it would help if USEC had more data on the added cost of making a Paducah commercial plant earthquake-resistant. Having been through the proposal process once should help the state try to overcome the disadvantages, he said.

USEC intends to apply in August 2004, seven months ahead of schedule, for the commercial plant license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.