12/16/2015 | By: Chris Balusik, Chillicothe Gazette
PIKETON - While employees involved with cleanup work at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon can now breathe their collective annual sigh of relief, American Centrifuge Plant workers remain in a holding pattern waiting to see what the Department of Energy will do with its uranium enrichment money.
Members of Ohio's congressional delegation Wednesday hailed agreement on a 2016 omnibus spending bill that, if passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama, would fully fund decontamination and decommissioning work at the DOE site in Piketon. The bill contains $203 million for the cleanup and another $21 million toward construction of an on-site, low-level waste disposal cell that is expected to result in savings for the project by reducing the expense of shipping lightly contaminated waste off site.
Officials with Fluor-BWXT, the lead site contract for the cleanup work, expressed appreciation for the work of Ohio's congressional delegation in securing the 2016 funding.
“We haven’t seen the actual language in the bill (as of Wednesday afternoon), but based on Sen. (Sherrod) Brown’s announcement, we expect full support with this legislation and want to thank Sens. Brown and (Rob) Portman and Ohio lawmakers, including (Bill) Johnson, (Brad) Wenstrup and the other Ohio representatives, for having the confidence in our workforce to support this project," said Dennis Carr, site project director. "We’ll make sure the cleanup moves forward safely and appropriately."
Both Brown and Portman said they are pleased funding could be secured for the cleanup and expressed hope for more consistent funding moving forward.
Portman's office noted that $50 million was also included in the bill for domestic uranium enrichment activities, with another $50 million in transfer authority available. Spending of that funding, which could help keep operations at the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon going, is at the Department of Energy's discretion. Should the DOE elect to continue along its present course of de-funding the Centrifuge and shifting resources for continuing development of the centrifuge technology to a facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, it has the authority to do so.
Since its contract with DOE expired Sept. 30, Centrus Energy has been footing the bill to keep Centrifuge operations going without job losses while efforts have been made to change the minds of those at DOE. An all-hands meeting of Centrifuge employees was conducted in Piketon Wednesday afternoon, after which American Centrifuge Vice President Steve Penrod sent a memo to all employees reiterating the risk that still exists and the hope that a change will occur.
"We are pleased with the outcome of this legislation, but the decision now rests with the Department of Energy on whether to exercise their authority to preserve the important capabilities and workforce in Piketon," the memo reads. "In the absence of a commitment from the Department (of Energy), we will need to begin demobilizing Piketon early next year. Obviously, we are doing everything we can to avoid that outcome, and will urge that the Department move quickly to restore the funding so that the important work in Piketon can go forward with no further uncertainty."