By Frank Lewis
U.S. Senator Rob Portman continued to press Secretary of the Department of Energy Ernest Moniz on Tuesday during hearings at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, about both major projects currently in operation at the Piketon, Ohio reservation and, while Moniz said he was almost certain there would be no layoffs between now and Dec. 11 at the decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) project, he did not paint a good picture of the future of the American Centrifuge Project (ACP).
“(It’s) unfortunate. I completely agree for the decision, namely – number one is that scrubbing really hard on the need for enriched uranium using American origin technology, we were able to extend the time frame for that very very dramatically, something I am happy to come and discuss with you in the days ahead,” Moniz said. “Secondly, the technical judgment made is that continuing to spin the (centrifuge) machines will not give us any more technical knowledge on the technology that we will preserve. We are not pulling the plug. But right now it’s hard to justify $50 million for something we think will have little to no technical return.”
The subject of the ACP began with Portman aggressively calling Moniz’s attention to his earlier commitment.
“I was surprised as the workers were to learn that you were pulling the plug on this project,” Portman said. “You have testified before this committee in the past that we need to have a domestic source of enriched uranium to support our nuclear weapons program and our nuclear naval reactor program.”
Portman asked Moniz if he had changed his mind on the subject.
“Absolutely not,” Moniz replied. “and we are not pulling the plug on this technology. The program continues. The issue is that the last few years operating the pilot facility spinning the (centrifuge) machines, we have learned things of an operational nature. We were able to resolve a technical issue with the machines, but two things led to that
“We are trying to get adequate funding for all of our cleanup activities and right now it’s hard to fit everything into the budget box,” Moniz said.
On the subject of the D&D project, Portman continued to try to get Moniz to commit to future funding.
“Your cleanup request in this last fiscal year was $80 million less than what was appropriated by Congress for FY (fiscal year) 2015, and, again, we’re talking about extending the cleanup even further and more and more layoffs if you all don’t put into your budget the funding that you have committed to over time,” Portman said. “We’re talking about keeping the funding at least level so there’s some certainty and predictability at the site. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
Portman said he was concerned when WARN notices were given to around 500 employees and he pressed Moniz to not only commit to the funding for the D&D in the CR, but to possibly come up with an anomaly that would continue that operation into fiscal year 2017 and beyond for the duration.
“I have every intention, hope to do exactly that,” Moniz said. “But I cannot discuss the FY-17 budget until we’ve gone through all the trade-offs in working with, as you know very well in working with OMB (Office of Management and Budget), on this. So with regard to the cleanup itself we cannot even get a commitment on the CR (Continuing Resolution) that concerns me a lot.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.