By Frank Lewis
USEC Inc. officials are attempting to learn their role within the new structure of the Department of Energy management of the American Centrifuge Project at Piketon, while at the same time, keeping an eye on the April 15 deadline for funding from the DOE.
After DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz announced last week that DOE would take over management of the project, they followed that announcement with word that Oak Ridge National Laboratories would actually oversee the project for the DOE.
“We were obviously pleased that the secretary confirmed that they need to keep a form of domestic enrichment technology available for national security purposes,” USEC Vice President of Communications Paul Jacobson said. “We also appreciated the fact that he recognized the American Centrifuge RD&D program we are in the project of concluding had achieved all of its milestones on time and on budget and really had firmly established that the technology’s readiness for deployment.”
The RD&D (research, development and demonstration) program is a joint operation between USEC and DOE to test the technology over thousands of hours for its viability.
In response to the Daily Times enquiry about ORNL’s plans, DOE spokeswoman Niketa Kumar emailed - “The RD&D project has been focused on reducing the technical and financial risk of the ACP project. The Department is exploring a number of options for the best way to meet U.S. national security needs after the RD&D cooperative agreement ends. As the Secretary noted last week, the Department currently plans to task the Oak Ridge Office and the Oak Ridge National Lab with taking actions needed to keep the machines spinning and manage the IP as the Department explores these options.”
USEC appears to be poised to find its niche in the current restructuring of the management of the ACP.
“Right now we are in open discussions with DOE and ORNL on what role USEC might play,” Jacobson said. “Keep in mind we have the manufacturing facility over in Oak Ridge which we own a majority of and we built. So we’re standing ready to support ORNL and DOE to meet the national security requirements.”
He said the discussions by those parties are currently underway. “I would describe it as a constructive dialogue,” Jacobson said. “I think it’s also important to note that this is related to Energy’s national security objectives.”
Jacobson said ORNL has an “exceptionally strong record” of executing Department of Defense and DOE programs.
“It has played an important role in American Centrifuge since its origins and we’ve had an ongoing cooperative research development program with the Lab,” Jacobson said. “And the secretary also recognized that USEC has a skilled workforce and a lot of experience that can assist ORNL.”
Recently, USEC, Inc. sent out WARN letters to employees, giving them notice that if the April 15 deadline arrives and more funding has not been appropriated, possible layoffs and shutdowns could occur. Jacobson acknowledged that date is still looming on the horizon.
“That is still out there,” Jacobson said. “We still don’t have any assurance yet on funding after April 15, though I would point to the secretary’s comments last week when he said it was very important to keep the machines spinning to keep the project going and that they were working diligently to obtain the funding to keep the program going.”
Jacobson said USEC retains the ability to put the technology into commercial deployment once the markets return and can support commercial deployment. Moniz eluded to the same scenario during his testimony before a House subcommittee last week, making reference to Japan getting back into the market. USEC retains those rights.
“That is something that could actually work out well for the government, because they could simply piggyback on the commercial deployment for their national security needs, but absent the ability to commercially deploy immediately because of the market conditions,” Jacobson said. “They are moving forward with ORNL to achieve their national security objectives, and that is something we stand ready to support.”
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.