Friday, July 10, 2009

Piketon Plant: Uranium Project May Go on Hold

Oh, great! This leaves USEC's gaseous diffusion plant in Paducah, KY still the only operational nuclear enrichment plant in the US.

Thursday, July 9, 2009 3:06 AM


WASHINGTON -- The planned uranium-enrichment plant project in Piketon, Ohio, faces "demobilization" beginning in August unless the federal government grants a $2 billion loan guarantee, says USEC Inc.

USEC, the suburban Washington company trying to build the $3.5 billion advanced-technology plant on the same site where it ran the enrichment facility closed in 2001, has indicated for months that without the loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, the Piketon project would fail to get needed financing.

USEC has spent about $1.4 billion to build a test plant and begin work on the full-scale commercial facility, which would make fuel for nuclear power plants. The company says the enrichment plant could be operating by early 2011.

An Energy Department spokesman declined on Tuesday to discuss the status of the USEC request. However, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has made it a priority to speed up the loan guarantee process.

USEC made its application more than 10 months ago. Announcements are expected "fairly soon" for several projects, said Ebony Meeks, an Energy Department spokeswoman. But she could not say whether USEC would be the subject of one of those announcements.

Overall, the project employs 5,700 directly or indirectly; jobs range from construction of the plant in Piketon to work on the enrichment-facility components and supplies in eight states, the company says. In Piketon, more than 600 are working, and a fully operating plant would employ about 400 for years to come.

The enrichment facility is separate from the planned nuclear-power plant that a consortium of companies recently announced. The nuclear power plant could take a decade to go online even if it gains all the necessary approvals.

USEC said this week that it expects the Energy Department to make a decision by early August on whether to grant a "conditional commitment" for the loan guarantee. But if the decision is no, or there is no decision, a demobilization plan for significantly slowing down the project will be put into effect that would "involve the partial or full halt of certain American Centrifuge project activities and plant construction," the company said.

"Even if a conditional commitment is provided by early August, demobilization may be initiated if the terms of such conditional commitment are not acceptable or if subsequent progress toward achieving actual funding later this year under the loan guarantee is not maintained," the company said.

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