By Frank Lewis
Herman Potter, president of United Steelworkers Local 689 at the Piketon plant, said he was leaving for Washington DC Wednesday afternoon to talk with officials from the United States Department of Energy (DOE) about the cut in funding for the decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) project at Piketon.
“I’m going to meet with the Department of Energy and possibly appropriators and that’s one of the things I’m going to ask them,” Potter said. “Give us some good reasons why we have to do this all the time.” Potter said he will ask DOE officials to attend the Sept. 9, 6 p.m. town hall meeting at the Pike County Government Center as well.
Because of budget cuts, the project is looking at anywhere from a $55 million to an $80 million shortfall which means layoffs.
“We’re extremely frustrated that we’re going through this again with the announcements of the layoffs and the WARN notices,” Potter said. “We really do not understand why we’re going through this again.”
Fluor BWXT said the DOE sent out 1,400 WARN Act notices to employees.
Potter said forcing the project to rely on the uranium barter agreement between Fluor BWXT and the DOE has put the project in “a terrible situation” because that means dealing with budgets every six months.
In a recent statement released by Fluor BWXT the company said – “Fluor-BWXT’s funding forecast for FY 16 has decreased significantly so we must adjust D&D work scope. This re-planning is driven by a projected reduction of appropriated funds and reduced barter proceeds that help pay for the project. The projected reductions in staffing necessitated by these changes may include 325 – 500 Fluor-BWXT and a proportionate number of subcontractor staff.
“Frankly it gets into a situation in which we cannot plan to do meaningful work,” Potter said. “It’s actually preventing us from doing the work that has been committed to be done here at the Department of Energy.”
Potter said the fear is that the working levels will go so low as to cause extreme safety issues.
Potter said officials are being told is that there is going to be a 350-400 person job economic impact which translates to approximately $47 million loss to the community.
“This community cannot withstand losing that many jobs and that much revenue,” Potter said.
Scioto County Commissioner Mike Crabtree said he believes the DOE’s efforts run deep.
“It seems to me like the DOE is actually trying to kill the community and I think a lot of it is they look at the Appalachian region as being kind of a rural community and they don’t see the value of the voters or the people here,” Crabtree said. “They knew they were going to cut the amount of uranium that they could barter and they didn’t tell Congress nor did they include any other funding to cover what was lost in the barter. It just seems to me it’s a lack of respect for our community and the promises that were made and the promises that we expect them to keep.”
The new limitation on uranium barter went from the ability to barter 2,055 metric tons of uranium to 1,600 metric tons coming into this year.
The topic of safety has also been put on the table.
“In today’s environment with all that’s going on around the world, around the country, the loss of security personnel at this facility would be unacceptable,” David Bowe, president of Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA) Local 66, said. “We’re already running shy of what we really need here and this continual preoccupation with loss of money at this facility is wreaking havoc within our department.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is set to provide opening remarks at the first DOE National Cleanup Workshop, scheduled to be held Sept. 29-30 in the Washington, D.C. area.
Moniz will discuss the progress EM has made in addressing the environmental legacy of the nation’s Manhattan Project and Cold War nuclear weapons program, as well as the Department’s priorities going forward.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.