Background on D&D decision

By Frank Lewis -

The Daily Times has learned there is a background story on the announcement this week by U.S. Senator Rob Portman concerning the constantly-uncertain funding of the D&D project at Piketon.

Portman said the bipartisan agreement to fund the federal government through September provides sufficient funding to avoid disruption of the clean-up activities at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon.

“Cleanup at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant is critical for jobs, economic development, and the future of southern Ohio,” Portman said. “After months of discussions with the Department of Energy and the Senate Appropriations Committee, including a phone call with the Secretary of Energy on Friday, I’m pleased that this issue has been resolved in a way that will protect Piketon jobs and continue the cleanup work at Piketon for the remainder of this fiscal year. The spending bill also provides for a $20 million increase for the construction of the on-site disposal cell that will mean more than 100 additional jobs at the site.”

On Friday, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced a reduction in the amount of uranium that can be sold on the market. The project is financed partially by uranium sales and partially by appropriations, and Tuesday, Fluor-BWXT spokesman Jeff Wagner told the Times the amount of uranium his company now has available to barter has dropped from 1,600 metric tons uranium (MTU) per year down to 1,200 MTU per year. Barter accounts for about 30 percent of the annual budget with Congressional Appropriations making up the balance. At the current spot market price 400 MTU represents approximately $24 million to the project and to the site.

In an exclusive interview with a Portman staffer, the Times learned about the timing of the announcement by Perry (2:51 p.m. Friday, March 28, 2017) and a lack of communication between the DOE and appropriators.

“The Omnibus was released late Sunday night, so the appropriators had already negotiated all the details of the bill, and it’s our understanding from Senator Portman’s conversation with Secretary Perry Friday, they (DOE) did not coordinate this decision with appropriators,” the staffer said. “If you look at the numbers, and what Fluor is estimating, in the price of uranium, it will likely be about a $10 million shortfall of the $377 million that they need for full cleanup activities.”

In a story in Wednesday’s edition of the Times, Dennis Carr (project manager) remains optimistic about the budget for the remainder of this fiscal year. Carr is optimistic they will be able to avoid any layoffs at the project site.

“They have to continue their austerity measures and tighten the belt and potentially even have to delay some cleanup activities because of that, and it’s really because of their lack of coordination with the Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill, when they were making this decision,” the staffer said.

The staffer said the bigger issue is that Portman was told about the reduction on Friday. He said, layoffs need to be avoided this year, and, “If you (Perry) don’t request an additional amount, you’re going to be requesting a budget that would likely reduce the workforce at Portsmouth.”

Portman said he would continue to ask for appropriators to appropriate the full amount.

“We just wanted them to know this is not going to be tolerated,” the staffer told the Times. “We ned to make sure that the site has full funding at the $377 million number if not more money to continue the cleanup.”

That figure comes from the combination of the barter and the appropriations.

Is it still the goal of all the entities to have this be fully funded by the appropriations, the DOE, rather than this mix of barter and appropriations?

“Absolutely,” the staffer told the Times. “Senator Portman has had that conversation with Secretary Perry since he was nominated, and he had that conversation with Secretary (Ernest) Moniz, and no one, including the appropriators, likes this uncertainty.”

On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown told the Times — “This plant has already faced so much uncertainty over the past several years, and I’m concerned this decision by the Trump Administration and Secretary Perry will leave us with a bigger gap to make up in next year’s appropriation process. We need these jobs in southeast Ohio and DOE must work with us so cleanup can continue in the future.”

By Frank Lewis

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewisPDT.

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewisPDT.