By Frank Lewis
Some 235 WARN Act notices have now been sent to all of the American Centrifuge staff at the Piketon site, according to sources at Centrus Energy, Inc. Notices were also sent to their American Centrifuge staff in Tennessee, which is another 145, for a total of 380 employees potentially affected in both states.
“We are in active discussions with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and hope to continue operations of the world’s most advanced centrifuges, maintaining American leadership in this crucial technology,” a statement from Centrus said. “While the current contract is set to expire on Sept. 30, we are hopeful that the Laboratory will make funds available to continue advancing this technology.
“However, in the absence of a final decision from the Laboratory or the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) regarding the status of the program past Sept. 30, Centrus is issuing notices that layoffs could occur beginning in 60 days to American Centrifuge workers, under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.”
Officials at Centrus said, given that they now have less than three weeks of program funding, Centrus is taking what they says is the prudent step of issuing WARN notices to the affected employees. Officials cautioned that notifications do not mean layoffs will occur or that the centrifuge program will be scaled back or demobilized, only that the potential for these actions exist.
“Our scientific and technical workforce have approximately 3,400 combined years of experience working on advanced centrifuge technology, making them an invaluable national asset,” the company statement continued. “We understand that this uncertainty is unsettling, but we are working diligently to resolve this as quickly as possible so that they can continue their important work on behalf of Centrus and the nation.”
The American Centrifuge Technology, Demonstration and Operations (ACTDO) agreement runs through Sept. 30. This is the follow on contract to the RD&D work they performed at the site from 2012-2014 where they built and successfully operated the commercial demonstration cascade. While DOE, ORNL and Centrus have been in discussions, DOE has not authorized or funded an extension with Centrus for work beyond Sept. 30.
The “Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act” (WARN Act) is a federal law that requires an employer that may have a mass layoff or plant closure to provide 60 days advance notice to its employees. Therefore, due to the current expiration of funding at September 30 and the lack of clarity regarding the timing and conclusion of DOE’s internal review of its future enriched uranium requirements, Centrus officials said they have taken the prudent step of issuing WARN notifications to ACP personnel that layoffs could begin in 60 days. While Centrus has issued those notifications, they do not necessarily mean layoffs will occur. Layoffs and other actions related to a scaling back or potential demobilization will be made in light of the facts at the time.
Congress has included funding for continued work on domestic uranium enrichment in its FY2016 appropriations. On May 1, 2015, the House of Representatives passed the FY2016 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill. That legislation includes $50 million in appropriations and $50 million in DOE reprogramming authority for domestic uranium enrichment activities. On May 21, 2015, the full Senate Appropriations Committee marked up and referred the FY2016 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill to the full Senate. This bill contains the same provisions passed by the House. The legislation awaits debate on the full Senate floor. In the absence of enacted appropriations, a continuing resolution would need to be passed to provide funding through the end of the calendar year, which could maintain funding at the existing level.
America’s need for a domestic source of enrichment for national and energy security purposes remains, and the American Centrifuge is the only existing U.S. technology capable of meeting U.S. national security needs for enriched uranium. Continued work under the ACTDO contract will support the ability to deploy American Centrifuge technology when the U.S. government determines that it needs a domestic enrichment capability.
This is the second such set of notices sent out in recent days, the first being those sent to DOE employees working on the Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) project at the same reservation. Those notices were the result of a major cut in funding for the project that is funded by two sources – government appropriations and the sale of uranium on the open market, a practice that has been greatly curtailed in the coming year.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.