U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) – questioning former Governor Rick Perry, the nominee to be Secretary of the Department of Energy, at his confirmation hearing Thursday – secured a commitment from Perry to visit the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon to get a firsthand look at the plant’s importance to the community and its local economy. The decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) work at Piketon employs roughly 1,800 people. Perry also committed to working with Portman to better manage the cleanup at the site.
“Senator, I will commit to you that I will become as educated on this issue as I can and in the most expeditious way that I can manage it and employ management skills and capabilities,” Perry said. “Without knowing the deep details of this, my instinct tells me that this is an issue of execution, of good management.”
Perry agreed with Portman that having a domestic capability to enrich uranium is a national security issue and one that he takes seriously. Perry indicated that he is willing to re-evaluate the Obama Administration’s decision to end the domestic uranium enrichment demonstration program and potentially reverse that decision after the new administration reviews the issue.
“I think the Trump administration does not want us vulnerable to the Russians and the capability of enriching uranium,” local business leader Jeff Albrecht said Thursday. “Right now the Russians have a monopoly on production of uranium and we can’t enrich any. So if a power plant needs enriched uranium, we have to go to the French or somebody and ultimately the Russians have a hand in it all. So the step that we need to take is to get Rick Perry educated as to what’s going on and hopefully he can help move something forward in Piketon.”
In addition, Perry told Portman that he would work with the senator on his bipartisan energy efficiency legislation, which would help create jobs, save consumers money on their energy bills, and clean up our environment.
Portman told Perry – “In Piketon, Ohio, we have a plant that produced enriched uranium until about 2000. At that point it was shut down. It was the gaseous diffusion method. It’s now being cleaned up. When President Obama ran in 2008, he promised to accelerate that cleanup. In fact, just the opposite has happened. Pretty much every year we’ve had to fight just to keep the cleanup in place. It’s gone from a 2024 time frame to a 2044 end date, costing taxpayers billions more by stretching it out and not being more efficient about it.”
Portman told Perry he is – “very disappointed in the Department of Energy for their inability to follow through on their commitments to the plant.”
One of those who has lived with the ups and downs of the Piketon project is Scioto County Commissioner Mike Crabtree.
“If that means that he’s (Perry) supportive of the cleanup efforts, that might mean something to not only the employees up there, but it would be to the county commissioners in Pike County as well as Scioto County and of course Jackson and Lawrence and some of the others affected by it,” Crabtree said.
The D&D project has been funded by a combination of uranium sales and appropriations, but when the bottom fell out of the uranium market and some of the appropriations dried up, the project went into a tailspin and now the people involved in the project in both the government segment and the corporations involved, are calling for complete funding by the federal government.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.