The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Employees unsure of future but not surprised
Some gaseous diffusion plant workers see too many variables that could change the situation before 2010.

By Shelley Street, The Paducah Sun Molly Harper

Monday's announcement that a $1.5 billion gas centrifuge plant would be built in Ohio was no surprise for USEC Inc. employees, but some stressed many changes could come before the Piketon plant's scheduled opening.

"I don't think we should definitely consider this a death knell for the plant," said Phillip Foley, who takes over today as president of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Local 5-550. "It's not as if they're going to go pull the plug in six years and that will be the end of it."

Several people questioned USEC's ability to afford the $1.5 billion Piketon plant.

"One and a half billion dollars is quite a bit of money in this day and time," said Marshall Pullen, who has been a materials handler for 30 years. "We're just waiting."

The plant's future is also dependent on continued uranium deals with Russia, Foley said.

"Some people believe that this will just blow over," instrument and computer mechanic Marty Logsdon said. "I'm more of a pessimist. When they say they're going to do this, I believe it."

Other businesses might eventually show interest in the plant's buildings, including a machine shop and fabrication shop, Foley said. "There are a lot of possibilities. There are a lot more opportunities at the plant than enrichment."

The Paducah plant could stay open beyond 2010 if energy demands increase and cannot be met by the Ohio operation, said Leon Owens, whose last day as the PACE local president was Monday.

When the plant does close, environmental cleanup could keep workers busy for years, he said. He cited Oak Ridge, Tenn., where cleanup still continues years after the plant there closed.

Several employees said they expected the new plant to be awarded to Ohio after Paducah's disadvantages such as a standing building in Piketon and Paducah's location near an earthquake fault-line were discussed publicly. Others cited the amount of research and money invested in the Piketon site.

"There are just some things you can't do anything about," said maintenance procedure writer Ray Boren of Kevil, who has worked at the plant for 27 years.

David Richards, a utilities operator and new operations committeeman for the plant nuclear workers' union, said the decision was announced early Monday morning in a meeting of senior plant managers and union leaders. It was then disseminated through supervisors to plant workers.

Employees are disappointed in the decision and feel they could do the work as well as Piketon's employees, Boren said, but they know the closing is "a long ways away."

"I can't see the plant changing production until the other process is proven and they have the pilot plant running," he said.

Steve Nicol, Cascade frontline manager from Kevil, said he would be near retirement age by the time the Paducah plant is phased out, but he may seek a job in the plant's transition and cleanup.

Some employees are considering returning to school for training in other fields, Logsdon said. Logsdon's banking his own future employment on the disposal of old storage cylinders used at the plant. He needs 15 more years of employment at USEC before he can retire, he said.

After 16 years at the plant, Logsdon said he no longer lets talk of the plant closing worry him.

"I used to let it bother me. Now I know there's just too much other important stuff to worry about," said Logsdon, whose wife, Deanne, received a liver transplant in 1999. "Whatever happens, I know the Lord is going to take care of me."