The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

Bunning, Bodman to tour Paducah plant

By Joe Walker

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant may well stay open longer than the projected five years, said U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, who is accompanying Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman today for a plant visit.

"We're hopeful that USEC will take another look at their ability to build that (replacement) plant in Portsmouth, Ohio," Bunning said Monday. "We don't think they're going to have the cash and ability to do that, and therefore the plant in Paducah will run longer than originally scheduled. But who knows?"

The Department of Energy leases the massive factory to USEC, a Bethesda, Md., firm that intends to close it starting in 2010 and replace it with a gas centrifuge plant near Portsmouth. USEC continues an aggressive schedule to build the $1.5 billion Ohio plant, which is expected to burn far less electricity than Paducah's 53-year-old facility.

The Paducah plant — the nation's only remaining uranium enrichment factory — consumes as much power as a major city.

Bodman is touring the plant here at the invitation of Bunning, who earlier this year criticized DOE for delays in hiring a new cleanup contractor to replace Bechtel Jacobs at Paducah. At the time, Bunning opposed the nomination of David Garman as new undersecretary of energy because of a two-year delay in the hiring process. Garman was nominated, and appointed, over Bunning's objection.

"He said, 'Let's get together and I'll come down,' " Bunning said of Bodman. "That's what this is all about."

Bunning said he wanted Bodman to see the environmental problems at the plant, talk to some of the 1,270 workers and get a status report on a spent uranium recycling plant being built in front of the factory. The recycling plant will get rid of 37,000 cylinders of toxic low-level radioactive waste.

DOE rebid the cleanup work to avoid even more delays in resolving numerous original bid protests. Bids are due Thursday, and Bunning said Energy Department officials assure him that all steps have been taken to get a new contractor in place to start work Nov. 1. About 550 people are employed by Bechtel Jacobs and its many subcontractors.

"We'll see," he said. "We thought we had that done the last time."