Monday, June 22, 2009

Ohio Uranium Plant at Risk Without Federal Loan

Your tax dollars at work! Again!

Updated 12:26 PM Sunday, June 21, 2009

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A company's plans to build a uranium enrichment plant in southern Ohio are in jeopardy without a $2 billion federal loan guarantee, The Columbus Dispatch reported Sunday.

USEC Inc., based in Bethesda, Md., is developing the American Centrifuge project on the site of a former gaseous diffusion plant in Piketon, about 65 miles south of Columbus.

The company applied for the loan guarantee 10 months ago under a U.S. Department of Energy program launched by former President George W. Bush.

Without the loan guarantee, USEC won't be able to obtain private financing, company officials said.

The delay is adding to the project's overall cost, which is about $3.5 billion, USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle told The Dispatch. The company has spent about $1.4 billion so far, including the construction of a new facility.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has said he intends to speed up the process of approving loan guarantees, but only one has been issued. In late March, Chu's department signed off on a $535 million loan guarantee for a solar-panel manufacturing plant to be built by California-based Solyndra.

USEC's project, announced five years ago, is supposed to open in 2011 and employ about 400. Enriched uranium from the plant would be used in generating electricity at nuclear power plants.

Work on the plant has slowed, and the prospect of mothballing it isn't far off, said Stuckle told the newspaper. She declined to specify when the project could be shut down.

"This is a serious time issue. We cannot get enough funding absent the loan guarantee," Stuckle said.

Rob Portman, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate and a former congressman from Cincinnati whose district included Piketon, recently wrote to President Barack Obama urging that the loan guarantee be granted quickly.

Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland also wrote to Obama in March, saying that "without timely approval of the loan guarantee, the many thousands of new jobs currently being created will be delayed or perhaps lost."

Obama was supportive when he campaigned in southern Ohio last year.

The Piketon site is where the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant enriched uranium during the Cold War.

Cleanup of the site is still going on, and just last week Gov. Ted Strickland and other politicians announced plans by Duke Energy and the French nuclear energy company Areva to build a $10 billion nuclear power plant there over the next 10 years.

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