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Lawmakers Plan Bill to Keep Uranium Plant

Mon, 12/19/2011 - 5:00am
LISA CORNWELL, Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) — Ohio's two U.S. senators plan on introducing a bill to authorize $150 million in spending to help a uranium enrichment project in southern Ohio stay afloat, after money for the project was missing from a last-minute spending bill passed on Saturday.

The Piketon plant would be at the site of a former gaseous diffusion plant that enriched uranium during the Cold War. It would produce enriched uranium for use in generating electricity at nuclear power plants.

Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman spoke with Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Saturday and agreed to sponsor bipartisan legislation to move the project forward.

The money comes from $106 million in existing Department of Energy funds, as well as $44 million in assets at Piketon in the form of "tails," a byproduct of uranium enrichment.

"This isn't about politics," the senators wrote in a joint statement. "This is about national security, protecting tax-payer investments and preserving good-paying Ohio jobs."

The Department of Energy announced in October that it planned to work with USEC Inc., the Bethesda, Md.-based developer, on research and development to reduce technical and financial risks that have held up USEC's application for a $2 billion loan guarantee for the planned American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon. That application is still pending.

Supporters of the project have said that it could bring as many as 4,000 construction jobs and 400 long-term, full-time jobs to Piketon.

The company had said in September that it might have to lay off about 450 workers in Ohio, Tennessee and Maryland if uncertainty about funding meant it had to stop most activity on the project. After the research and development plan was announced, USEC said it was willing to wait before laying off the workers and would take things day-to-day as discussions continued with federal officials. The company also had said that two key investors had agreed to sit tight until mid-January.

The company and DOE had said that the government's part of the funding of the research program would be capped at $300 million and would have to be approved by congressional committees. The department had said that it intended to ask for approval to use existing DOE funds for the first $150 million needed for the first phase of the research program.

USEC and its partners would pay for 20 percent of the research program through a technical verification phase involving the construction of the cascade or initial cluster of centrifuges and 80 percent of the phase that would involve building remaining clusters into a train of multiple clusters.

DOE has said it is in the government's interest to have a domestic producer of enriched uranium because nuclear power is an important part of the U.S. fuel supply, representing about 20 percent of the power produced.

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