By Frank Lewis
In a major development Wednesday, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the DOE will take over the management of the American Centrifuge Project in Piketon. Moniz testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee and told members that management will be through the DOE National Laboratory at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
A story in Thursday’s Columbus Dispatch quoted Moniz from that testimony.
“We have to preserve the technology, we have to preserve the (intellectual property) and we have to think about how we are going to go ahead to meet our national-security obligations,” Moniz said.
The ACP project has been operated by USEC, Inc. and has been the subject of several high profile incidents with the Department of Energy, including an agreement reached last year which brought about a cooperative effort between USEC and DOE, in which the government is funding a large portion of the RD&D project which included several milestones reached by USEC in the operation of a cascade of machines. The cooperative agreement provides funding for a cost-share RD&D program to demonstrate the American Centrifuge technology through the construction and operation of a commercial demonstration cascade of 120 centrifuge machines and to sustain the domestic U.S. centrifuge technical and industrial base for national security purposes and potential commercialization of the American Centrifuge technology.
The Dispatch story quoted more of Moniz testimony. “We have to keep it going this year,” Moniz said, adding that the American Centrifuge Project met all of the goals set by the Department of Energy. “Frankly, it would be very, very desirable to make sure we keep our 120 machines spinning.”
Moniz intimated in his testimony that USEC would continue to be a part of the new structure, but the Daily Times was unsuccessful in their attempt to reach USEC officials to see if their role had been clarified, though it is believed that role would be that of a subcontractor, meaning only the management would change.
Late in March in accordance with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, USEC sent out a memorandum as their advance notice of a possible “mass layoff” or “plant closing” as defined under the WARN Act that would begin on or about May 19, 2014, at USEC’s American Centrifuge Program (ACP) facilities in Piketon.
“It is anticipated that a potential reduction-in-force could result in the layoff of more than 50 employees during a 30-day period at USEC’s Piketon American Centrifuge Program facility,” the memorandum reads. “These reductions, if they occur, would be expected to be permanent and those affected employees cannot displace (bump) other employees.”
USEC officials said at the time they had been in discussion with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) regarding the continued funding of American Centrifuge program activities.
“We were successful in having the RD&D (research, development and demonstration) program extended to April 15, 2014,” the memorandum continued. “However, DOE has not made a commitment to fund the program past that date at this time. Due to this funding uncertainty we must prepare for a possible phased reduction in the scope of the program, up to and including demobilization. A reduction in scope would cause the near-term elimination of a number of positions at the Piketon facility. In the event we make a decision to reduce or demobilize the program, layoffs would take place through 2014 and we will provide additional notifications as required.”
The department is currently looking at how to reprogram $57 million in Energy Department money to keep the plant running.
The Times reached out to the office of U.S. Representative Brad Wenstrup (OH-2) for comments.
“We need clarity from the Department of Energy. I will continue to work with the Department of Energy as it finds a solution that recognizes the national security realities of this project, and I stand with people of Pike County and the region as they are forced to live under more uncertainty caused by the federal government,” Wenstrup said. “Domestic uranium enrichment is a vital component of our national security. Congress did their part to support the project in Piketon, and it’s time for the Department of Energy to do their job and come forward with a long-term plan. The Department of Energy is responsible for reviewing options to meet our national security needs, including meeting those needs through the Piketon uranium enrichment research, development and deployment (RD&D) project.”
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.