By Frank Lewis
With the recent announcement of the shut down of the American Centrifuge Project at Piketon, Centrus Energy, Inc. has released what they are calling “key facts” about the importance of that project for national security reasons.
The Department of Energy (DOE) has indicated that they will only be providing funding of approximately $35 million for work on the American Centrifuge technology for government fiscal year 2016 which represents a 60 percent reduction from current funding and will require the curtailment of operations of the 120-machine demonstration cascade in Piketon, Ohio, resulting in layoffs of more than 200 employees at the facility. Layoffs at the Piketon site would likely begin in mid-November.
Centrus, DOE’s contractor operating the site, has indicated for some time that it does not have the funds to continue the program in support of the U.S. government’s national security needs, after having invested more than $2.6 billion of shareholder funds to vastly improve the technology and prepare for a potential commercial deployment and future national security purposes.
Centrus officials say they are exploring what options are available for maintaining as much of the technology and staff in Piketon as possible and is open to other means of funding or uses for the centrifuges at the facility.
The facts, according to Centrus, are that the American Centrifuge program has strong support in Congress, and House and Senate appropriators included appropriations and reprogramming authority for the full program in their GFY16 funding legislation. If a continuing resolution is passed as a stopgap measure, it could continue funding for the program at current levels; 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; Centrus’ 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 says full demobilization of the plant — and the loss of significant operational expertise — will raise costs and technical risk while extending the construction timeline of any subsequent effort to reconstitute that capability and since the shutdown of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in 2013, the United States has had no industrial-scale uranium enrichment capability based on U.S. technology, for the first time since the Manhattan project.
Centrus goes on to say continued Piketon operations will strengthen U.S. national security and could play a pivotal role not only in supporting long-term U.S. requirements for tritium and naval reactor fuel, but also in providing a foundation for the possible recovery of a significant American role in the international market for uranium enrichment and that abandoning the commercial uranium enrichment market to foreign competitors will cost American jobs, hurt advanced manufacturing, expand the nation’s trade deficit, undermine U.S. national security, and could weaken our non-proliferation efforts around the world.
Company officials said reserving a U.S.-based enrichment capability will also support America’s energy security; nuclear power still provides nearly one-fifth of the Nation’s electricity, and U.S. utilities have made clear that they prefer the added diversity and security of supply, as well as the price competition, that an American supplier could provide.
Layoffs would affect approximately 236 employees – 31 percent reside in Scioto County; 26 percent in Pike County; 21 percent in Ross County; 7 percent in Jackson County; 3 percent in Adams County and 12 percent in other counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan. In 2014 the gross payroll was $28.5 million making the average salary, excluding benefits, $82,103.
Centrus says operations continue to demonstrate that the technology is ready for deployment and that more than 3.1 million hours of combined machine run-time has been achieved.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.