By FRANK LEWIS
PDT Staff Writer
Now that the target date for potential layoffs at the American Centrifuge project in Piketon has come and gone, company officials say they are looking at the situation day by day.
On Sept. 30, USEC Inc. mailed Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act notices to all of the approximately 450 USEC American Centrifuge workers at the Piketon plant, as well as those in Tennessee and Maryland, informing them of a potential layoff in the first half of November. For three years, the company has been waiting for the U.S. Department of Energy to authorize a $2 billion loan guarantee.
In addition, investors Babcock & Wilcox Investment Company and Toshiba Corporation have agreed in principle to further extend a standstill agreement related to their investment agreement through Jan. 15, 2012.
USEC announced Monday discussions are ongoing between the company, DOE and Congress, regarding the ACP.
According to Paul Jacobson, vice president of communications for USEC, the American Centrifuge project seeks to deploy an innovative technology developed by DOE and improved by USEC in recent years. DOE and USEC have been in discussions to work together through a Research, Development and Demonstration (RD&D) program to further reduce technical project execution and financial risks for commercializing the technology. The RD&D program is expected to involve manufacturing and operating additional production-design machines so key systems can be tested as they would actually operate at the scale necessary for full commercialization. USEC is working together with DOE and Congress on support for the RD&D program.
Meanwhile, during a phone call Monday with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown urged the Energy Department to further invest in Piketon’s American Centrifuge Plant (ACP) by immediately releasing existing resources DOE has available for Research Development and Demonstration (RD&D). In 2009, the Department of Energy (DOE) made a $45 million investment to further advance ACP. Brown urged an additional investment to retain jobs while USEC works to ensure ACP is in the strongest technical and financial position to secure a conditional loan guarantee.
“The Department of Energy should use its existing resources to help sustain the American Centrifuge Plant,” Brown said. “We have an obligation to work together to realize the thousands of jobs that would be created through ACP. That means USEC working to ensure that the project is in the strongest financial and technical position to secure a conditional guarantee. And that means DOE being a good partner in retaining and creating jobs in Southern Ohio.”
Brown told CHU USEC’s application for a government loan guarantee would help build state-of-the-art uranium enrichment technology at the former Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon. If successful, the ACP could bring as many as 4,000 construction jobs and 400 long-term, full time jobs to Piketon.
USEC officials said any decision regarding continued spending or demobilizing the project will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis. However, if an agreement between USEC and DOE is not reached, actions to demobilize the project, including worker layoffs, could take effect.