By Frank Lewis
Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Ernest Moniz now says it will take until as late as 2052 to complete the cleanup work at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant at Piketon, obliterating the original 2024 completion date.
“The goal of 2024 is not achievable,” Moniz said. “The Department’s schedule range for completing cleanup of the site is 2044 to 2052 reflecting 50 percent and 80 percent confidence levels, respectively.”
The acknowledgement that the completion of cleanup work in Piketon will be delayed was made by Moniz in response to a question that Sen. Rob Portman sent to him following a February 2015 hearing on DOE’s budget request, held in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in February.
“Unbelievably, the Administration has now said the promised cleanup dollars won’t be there, jobs will be cut, and work in Piketon is not likely to be completed until 2052. While campaigning for president in 2008, Barack Obama made a promise to the community to prioritize the cleanup and prepare the site for reindustrialization as quickly as possible,” Portman said. “In 2009, then-Energy Secretary Chu announced a plan to accelerate completion of the cleanup work from 2044 to 2024. Now, after hundreds of millions in federal dollars have already been spent to accelerate the cleanup efforts, I am shocked to learn that the project was either severely mismanaged or the commitments made to the community were no more than empty promises. This is unacceptable, and I intend to hold this Administration accountable and stand up for the Ohioans they are leaving in a lurch. I will work with my colleagues in Congress to get this project back on track, and I again ask for the Administration’s full support.”
On Tuesday, Portman attended the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ nomination hearing for Dr. Monica Regalbuto to be Assistant Secretary of Energy (Environmental Management). If confirmed, Dr. Regalbuto will be in charge DOE’s Office of Environmental Management with oversees cleanup efforts at Piketon. Portman submitted questions to Dr. Regalbuto expressing concern over the Administration’s $49 million cut to cleanup funding in Fiscal Year 2016 and requesting a commitment from her that, if confirmed, she will develop a long-term plan for the cleanup efforts.
Earlier this year, Portman urged Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shaun Donovan to fully fund decontamination and decommissioning operations in Piketon. Portman asked Moniz if he intends to continue the uranium barter program to subsidize the Portsmouth GDP cleanup funding while understanding that the stockpiles are limited.
“Yes,” Moniz responded, then told Portman the DOE has been pleased to provide his staff members with the information and promised to keep him informed of any new developments on the issue.
When Portman asked if the DOE will strengthen its presence in the community and at the Portsmouth site by opening a Piketon office, Moniz responded the DOE does not plan to open a Piketon office because it already has a well-staffed office located on the Portsmouth site.
When Portman pressed Moniz on the question of plans to continue the agreement with the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI) to reuse or recycle assets from the site, Moniz said the DOE has been pleased to provide his (Portman) staff with the information and to keep him informed.
Portman previously secured the inclusion of additional funding authority in the Fiscal Year 2015 Continuing Resolution to fund cleanup activities at the Piketon site. The funding helped protect nearly 700 workers at the site who were at risk of being laid-off in October. Portman and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also called on DOE to provide answers regarding concerns over funding for the project, which currently employees 1,900 individuals.
Portman said in 2012 he also worked with the former Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, to increase the cap on the uranium barter program to help cover a gap in appropriated funding. The uranium barter program has allowed the DOE to barter or sell natural uranium into the open market and use the proceeds to pay for a portion of the cleanup work at Piketon.
A response to the Daily Times for comments from contractor Fluor B&W Portsmouth was not immediately received on Tuesday.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.