The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

Bodman urges workers to find future use for plant

Sen. Jim Bunning doubts USEC's ability to finance the Ohio plant, which would put Paducah´s 2010 closing in doubt.

By Joe Walker

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The community will decide what to do with the sprawling Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant once it closes and is cleaned up decades from now, U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said during a visit to the plant Tuesday.

"Economic development is not our job," he said. "We do create jobs, but we do it as part of the cleanup process."

Bodman and U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate, spoke to reporters after touring the 750-acre factory, which enriches uranium for use in nuclear fuel. USEC Inc. leases the plant from the Department of Energy and employs 1,270 people. Another 550 work for DOE cleanup and infrastructure contractors.

Several workers asked about the future of the plant, slated to close starting in 2010 and be replaced by a $1.5 billion gas centrifuge factory in Piketon, Ohio. Bunning said he doubts USEC's ability to finance the $1.5 billion plant on its own, which would put the 2010 opening date in doubt.

"They can't do it from internal earnings, so they're going to have to go out and get people who risk capital on the marketplace to get involved," he said.

Bodman said he encouraged the workers to join in community efforts to determine a use for the plant once it is cleaned up within the next 20 to 30 years. DOE will support developing a community plan, including ways of generating work to replace plant-related jobs, he said.

There is pending federal legislation on behalf of the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization, an economic development group, for an independent study of how the plant area might be used after closure. One scenario would be to attract new industry, and another would be for DOE to buy contaminated land of plant neighbors.

"I think (buying land) deserves some consideration, but I can assure you there's nothing, at least at the departmental level, that is imminent," Bodman said.

The Energy Department continues to provide free municipal water to 121 homes and businesses around the plant that have been or are threatened by 10 billion gallons of plant-related groundwater pollution.

Bunning said about half of the old Naval Ordnance Station in Louisville is being used by Motorola and other businesses after being cleaned up. "I think that's what we will need here, and PACRO seems to be the lead agency right now," he said. "I think it's a good idea to plan ahead. We know it's going to take a long time to clean up."

Three companies interested in recycling 9,700 tons of contaminated scrap nickel at the plant estimate the local share of sale proceeds at tens of millions of dollars. PACRO wants to facilitate the sale to create jobs to offset plant closure.

Bodman said there are restrictions on how that money could be used. Probably "the best we could hope for" would be to reinvest the proceeds in cleanup, he said. "I'm unaware of any possibility of having money come back to the community per se."

Bunning said he planned to meet afterward with some key PACRO officials to talk about the potential of using the money for economic development.

For the nickel to be recycled, DOE must first lift a five-year, safety-related ban on removing contaminated scrap metal at any of its plants. The agency, which recently added recycling to its scope of cleanup work, is considering lifting the moratorium for nickel and some other scrap metal that is sufficiently cleaned, said Charles Anderson, principal deputy assistant secretary for DOE's Office of Environmental Management.

"We're looking at it," he said without giving a time frame for a decision. "We have to balance it against the environmental impact statement."

Bids for a cleanup contractor are due Thursday. The new firm is expected to replace Bechtel Jacobs by Nov. 1.