After garnering funding to maintain current employment levels for the decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) work at the Portsmouth gaseous Diffusion Plant at Piketon and the maintaining of the American Centrifuge Plant (ACP) also at Piketon, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has made the decision not to use that funding for those projects despite the fact that Congress has appropriated it. That led to a grilling of Moniz by U.S. Senator Rob Portman on Thursday.
“I’m profoundly disappointed in the way you’ve handled the cleanup at Piketon and the new technology, the uranium enrichment technology you just pulled the plug on, and in the confirmation hearings when I supported you strongly, I asked you if you would come out and take a look at Piketon. I’ve asked you at every one of these hearings,” Portman said. “I think you would have a different perspective if you would come out and see it. It’s not just a huge facility, thousands of acres, but the building alone, the ACP, is a $6 billion federal taxpayer initiative that you’re pulling the plug on and I just think it’s truly disappointing.”
Portman reiterated the Piketon project is the only American source of enriched uranium which he says is needed for nuclear power, the nuclear Navy, tritium for a nuclear arsenal and for the nation’s non-proliferation efforts.
“I will tell you, 60 people lost their jobs this week, their last day of work is going to be tomorrow (Friday),” Portman said. “That means 140 people are going to work themselves out of a job if they’re forced to deconstruct our best technology, the only centrifuge technology that we have, which you have supported. You said it’s the best technology and we’re going to dismantle this stuff and throw it in the desert. I think it’s just wrong and I think it’s going to be very expensive for the taxpayers.”
Portman said it would most likely take 7 years to reconstruct what is currently on site at Piketon.
“You lose the supply chain, you lose the workers, you lose all this expertise,” Portman said. “As Americans we should all be concerned about this … How long would it take to rebuild that capability?”
“Number one, I have been to the site and I’ve seen it. I was there twice during the Clinton years,” Moniz said.
Portman told Moniz the current ACP project was not on site at the time he visited. Moniz said he would be happy to arrange a visit to the site.
“Secondly, again, we are not pulling the plug on the technology,” Moniz said. “Third, we absolutely still need a national security based capability some time probably in the next 20 years or so. If we had several billion dollars now, we could start building that national security train (cascades). The current machines would not be part of that. It’s not like they are the beginning of it. They’re not part of it and the problem right now is that we have passed the useful life of that cluster, but we do need a national security train and right now, as I said before, today, certainly the only American technology that we have is the ACP.”
Moniz then spoke about the cleanup and Portman again spoke about what he said were broken promises made to the people of southern Ohio by President Obama and the DOE. He said the original plan was for the cleanup to be completed by 2024, but the latest is, because of the lack of funding from the administration, the new target date is 2044.
The use of the USEC Fund came up again at the hearings, and Portman said the DOE had previously said the fund was not available – now Moniz is proposing use of that fund for part of the cost of the cleanup. Moniz said he had not said it was unavailable, and that the DOE has three funds totaling almost $5 billion which can be used for the operation.
“It’s mandatory funding and we proposed an offset which would be returning to the quarter-mill per kilowatt hour for the uses of the facility,” Moniz said. “This is the way it was when that fee was discontinued, and it was a higher fee, the full cost of the D&D at the three sites was not understood. We now say it’s like $22 billion. We now understand that. So the current authorization is that the users pay for it. It will be about a quarter-mill per kilowatt hour (which) would cover the offset for using the USEC Fund which is an existing authorized fund which has been sitting there.”
Portmans time to question ran out and he asked for Moniz to present the proposal in detail in writing to his office.