Piketon plant critcal to our entire region

Published 9:53 am Thursday, August 20, 2009

Recently, I was at the wedding of a former staffer and talked to one of the guests about their job at the United States Enrichment Corporation’s (USEC) facility in Piketon.

The global energy company, which is a leading supplier of fuel for nuclear power plants, is currently developing a next-generation uranium enrichment technology called American Centrifuge and has plans to build a new $3.5 billion plant on their property in Pike County that would bring hundreds of jobs to the region.

Little did I know that the Obama Administration, which had assured Governor Strickland and Southern Ohioans that they supported the project, would, days later, request that USEC withdraw their application for a $2 billion federal loan guarantee that is necessary for construction to move forward on the American Centrifuge facility.

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Without it, USEC will be forced to demobilize the project, which would be a tremendous blow for our region’s economy, impact thousands of workers in Ohio and other states and represent a major set back for advanced energy production in this country.

The Obama Administration has since announced that they will postpone a final review of USEC’s loan guarantee application for six months, but the doubt surrounding the future of the American Centrifuge plant has already caused some folks to lose their jobs. I just received word that the person I spoke with at the wedding is being laid off in two weeks. In addition, a local small business owner recently told me that the delay will lead to the immediate reduction of 15 employees at the Piketon facility.

Furthermore, the page who works in my office told me that he knows someone who works at the USEC site who is getting laid off. The man had recently taken the position in Piketon after losing his job at the Meridian plant in Jackson. These are the real consequences of not allowing the American Centrifuge project to proceed.

On a more positive note, the Obama Administration did announce that they will invest $150 to $200 million each year for the next four years for remediation efforts at the Piketon site, which is enough to create 800 to 1,000 jobs.

While I am grateful for the promise of new jobs in our region, the skilled people who are currently working at the USEC facility still face an uncertain future.

President Obama’s lack of commitment to the Piketon uranium enrichment project, coupled with his continued push for a cap and trade energy policy that would unfairly impact Ohio’s coal industry and lead to dramatic increases in Ohioans energy bills, represents a double blow to our area from Washington.

Concerned about the impact of the cap and trade program on our state’s economy and the financial well-being of Ohio families, the Ohio Senate passed a joint resolution in June, which I cosponsored, urging members of the U.S. House and Senate to oppose the plan.

Failure to approve USEC’s loan application could have a similarly devastating effect on Southern Ohio’s economy, our area’s workforce and America’s energy future. Therefore, I introduced a resolution on August 13 calling on President Obama to honor his pledge during the Presidential election that he would support the uranium enrichment project in Piketon. Senate Concurrent Resolution 18, which has 12 Senate cosponsors, urges the President to direct the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to ensure the continuation of the uranium enrichment work being developed by USEC at its Piketon plant, by granting the company’s application for a federal loan guarantee.

The resolution goes on to say that the President and the Secretary of DOE should use the additional six-month review period for careful deliberation and take all necessary steps to avert the demobilization of the American Centrifuge project.

I think it is important for the Ohio General Assembly to send a strong message to our leaders in Washington that we want a safe and secure energy future, and with the help of the federal government, Piketon and our state’s workforce can play a critical role in this effort.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.