Southern Ohio has opportunity to build again

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 8, 2012

I’ve spent my whole life in southern Ohio. Even when I was in the Army National Guard serving my tours of duty in Iraq, my home and my heart has always been here.

And for as long as I can remember, there has been an atomic plant mere miles from my hometown.

My father, a Navy veteran of the Korean War, provided for us by working at that very plant for more than 40 years as a chemical operator. There is no more fitting symbol of southern Ohio than that plant. It embodies our mindset and is a pure reflection of who we are.

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In 1952, we broke ground on the uranium enrichment plant. We brought in 100,000 tons of structural steel and 14,500 tons of reinforcing steel for the concrete. We installed 600 miles of process piping and more than 1,000 miles of copper tubing in the three processing buildings, X-326, X-330 and X-333.

Those giant buildings, miles of concrete greatness, were built in three short years by a bunch of farm boys from our neck of the woods.

Fast forward to present day. Those buildings still stand there — empty mausoleums long since shut down. They are a fitting metaphor for how far we’ve fallen as a region.

And just as we’ve been saying for decades now that it can’t keep getting any worse even though it consistently has, it seems now that our pessimism has finally run out and we’re ready to be optimistic again.

We’ve been given a lifeline, an opportunity, a chance to show what we can do again.

On June 13, the news broke that the Piketon plant is getting $280 million to accompany USEC’s $70 million to fund the research and development phase of a long since promised loan guarantee to fund the next generation of uranium enrichment in southern Ohio.

It will lead to the employment of 200 more people in Piketon. The American Centrifuge Project can be the second coming of the enrichment we used to do here.

Like in the past, it is vital to our economy and national security. It is cutting edge technology, and it is located in our backyard. We are entrusted with this responsibility because we’ve handled it before.

We are now going to be able to build 80 new centrifuges making the total number 120. That many centrifuges make one cascade, and with that one cascade, we will audition for the chance to get 95 more.

Someone less optimistic than I might say that this is only a portion of the $2 billion that was promised to us. They could say that it is only 1/96 of what the plant would need to be fully commercialized.

While they are right, I respond by saying that they are looking at the glass as half empty. I see this as a tremendous opportunity. Just as we were called upon once before to build something great and develop technology our nation needed, here we are again tasked with our part of the yoke that is our nation’s energy crisis.

We have the chance to thrive once more and provide this land with technology absolutely critical for our nation’s defense. And I truly believe that, like before, we will prove to be up to the challenge and give the powers that be no excuse not to follow through with the rest of that loan guarantee.

I meet with a lot of people in Columbus, and I tell them about southern Ohio. I tell them about Branch Rickey and our rich baseball history. I tell them about how Portsmouth once rivaled Cincinnati. I tell them about how we took a handful of farm kids and built miles of concrete jungle, filling it with tubing to take natural uranium and purify it to the incredibly valuable and incredibly fissionable U-235. I tell them how wonderful southern Ohio is.

They listen, they smile, they agree, and I think they believe me. Then the meeting ends, and we go our separate ways, and they forget.

This is our chance to make them remember what we can do — to remind them what we’ve done before. This is our chance to show everyone once again what our region can do when the United States of America needs us.

Let’s ingrain in everyone’s minds permanently what a resource we have in Piketon. Right now, we are looked upon by outsiders with a reputation of prescription drug abuse and economic tragedy.

Let us rise like a phoenix once again from our own ashes and prosper. Let us take advantage of this God-given opportunity. Let’s repeat history.


Rep. Terry Johnson may be reached by calling (614) 466-2124, e-mailing, or writing to State Rep. Terry Johnson, 77 South High Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215.