By Frank Lewis
Leaders in Piketon are at a loss as to what to do next, now that the Department of Energy (DOE) has announced an end to the American Centrifuge Test Demonstration and Operation (ACTDO) contract at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon.
The two-edged sword is that while this shutdown is occurring with Centrus Energy, Inc., Fluor BWXT is dealing with the reduction in funding for the other project, the decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) project at the same reservation.
“On the cleanup (D&D), if they have those (ACTDO) layoffs you hope that those people that get laid off can go somewhere else and get a similar job because Fluor is a big company,” Pike County Commissioner Blaine Beekman told the Daily Times. “But Centrus isn’t. So do they have a place to relocate 270 workers? I don’t know the answer to that.”
Herman Potter, president of Local 689 of the United Steelworkers, said his union currently has about 70-75 workers on the ACP project which employs approximately 200 workers overall.
“That even made the D&D worse because some of the work that’s done on the D&D side at Fluor is supporting the infrastructure for American Centrifuge,” Potter told the Times. “That would justify getting rid of even more people.”
Beekman said the entire situation is frustrating. He said the timing of the announcement couldn’t have been worse.
“They are talking about signing a deal with Iran to allow them to expand their nuclear capabilities and at the same time we shut our only domestic source down,” Beekman said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Beekman said another effect is that workers for Centrus who are employed at the ACP project have to be trained on the job because there is no college course that teaches that type of work and if that project is shut down, those people employed there won’t be around in two or three years if you want to start it up again somewhere, so a new group of employees would have to be completely retrained. There is no cascade in Oak Ridge where the contract continues to at least keep some part of the program operating.
Now, those people in Pike County and the surrounding counties where workers live have to think in a new direction because of the change in scenario.
“Up here we have limited resources,” Beekman said. “We’ve got the community. We’ve got the union. We’ve got the companies but do we concentrate still on keeping enough money in to keep the cleanup going forward? Or do you say, ‘wait a minute, the more immediate thing might be here at Centrus at the ACP. You don’t even know how to respond.”
Potter said the frustration has also spread to his office.
“I made phone calls and emails all morning and all weekend trying to find out what was going on. I talked to the one senator over the weekend to try to get a little bit of information and everything is quiet right now,” Potter said. “No one is saying anything. I’m hearing nothing. Absolutely nothing. That makes it even more scary actually.”
Washington officials have also gotten into the mix.
“This is beyond belief,” U.S. Congressman Brad Wenstrup said. “While this Administration is greenlighting uranium enrichment in Iran and legitimizing 6,000 Iranian centrifuges, they’re shutting down domestic production here in America – a dangerous threat to our national security.
“Congress, the people’s elected representatives, responsibly and repeatedly prioritized the American Centrifuge Project with full funding. The project is a national security imperative to ensure we have a continued domestic supply of enriched uranium to support our nuclear weapons program and the Navy nuclear reactors program.”
So officials continue to attempt to regroup and figure out what their next step will be.
“I can’t tell you at this moment what we’re going to do,” Beekman said. “The talk is that we were going to go over and try and meet with EM-1 (Environmental Management) over in the cleanup to keep it going but what a wierdness we’ve got going here.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.