Skip to Content

In The News

Answers behind Centrifuge decision still sought

Chillicothe Gazette

PIKETON — While trying to figure out how to reverse the Department of Energy’s decision to end funding for the American Centrifuge Plant Sept. 30, members of Ohio’s congressional delegation are still seeking a good explanation of the thinking behind the decision.

DOE stated nearly a week ago that it was pulling funding from the Centrifuge project, choosing instead to take the lessons learned from years of developing centrifuge technology at the Piketon facility and shifting resources to continue the work to a facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is located. ORNL assumed control over the American Centrifuge project in 2014.

At the Piketon site Wednesday, Centrus Energy CEO Daniel Poneman visited with the the site management team and employees, spending more than 90 minutes answering questions and reiterating the company’s commitment to continue fighting for continued operation of the Centrifuge facility. Should that effort fail, he said the company will make any necessary transitions for local employees as smooth as possible.

The company continues to hold out hope, according to Centrus spokesperson Jeremy Derryberry.

“We continue to believe that dismantling the only operating cascade of American-made advanced centrifuges is unwise — especially since the government and Centrus spent $350 million to build these centrifuges just two years ago,” he said. “Centrus is working closely with federal, state and local officials on ways to continue our work in Piketon to advance this critical national security technology.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown told the Gazette Wednesday that he had what he termed “a pretty tough conversation” on Tuesday with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz regarding Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act notices of pending layoffs sent in recent weeks to employees of both the American Centrifuge Plant and former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon. While the Centrifuge is facing an end to funding, the cleanup work on the diffusion plant is facing cuts in both appropriations and a barter program in 2016 that could cost anywhere from 325 to 500 jobs starting in late October if conditions don’t change.

“(Centrifuge workers) need a better explanation about what that (WARN) letter was about,” Brown said. “On the (diffusion plant) cleanup, there’s just no excuse for not doing this. (The contamination of the site) was done by our government on behalf of the American people to win the Cold War – something we needed to do. The cleanup is mandatory. We owe it to the community who didn’t ask for that contaminated soil, contaminated sites and we owe them the cleanup.”

Brown said that after cleanup efforts at the Mound Laboratories in Dayton were killed by the previous administration, one of the first things he did in the Senate was push President Obama to complete the work there.

“The cleanup was close to spectacularly successful, and I want to be able to say that in Piketon, too,” said Brown, who added that while he has a great deal of respect for Moniz, he told the energy secretary Tuesday that DOE has come up short with regard to the Piketon site.

U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup’s office echoed Brown’s concern about a lack of solid rationale behind the American Centrifuge decision, saying that DOE’s silence “is stunning” and that it leaves unanswered national security questions.

“Two specific issues we are pursuing are reports due to Congress but not yet delivered,” reads statements from Wenstrup’s office in response to questions from the Gazette. “One is a formal study of needed tritium reserves for our military – a cause DOE cites in their decision making but has yet to back up with a report. The second is a cost-benefit analysis of each of the options available to supply enriched uranium for defense purposes. In addition to these security concerns, putting this equipment into storage is not cheap and the indeterminate security costs will add up.

“Additionally, we don’t think DOE has taken into account the problems they face regarding the loss of human capital. We have an extraordinarily talented workforce in the region, and those skill sets are not going to be waiting around for DOE down the line. We need to see a formal report that examines the entire scope of costs.”

The reports they are seeking are required by Section 312 of the continuing resolution for the Fiscal Year 2015 omnibus bill. It states that DOE was to provide the House and Senate appropriations committees with those reports by April 30, 2015.

“We are asking DOE for a comprehensive briefing on these missing reports,” a statement from Wenstrup’s office reads. “The missing information leaves a lot of questions surrounding the surprise announcement terminating the (American Centrifuge) contract.”

Both Wenstrup and Brown stated that lobbying efforts that have been going on for some time are continuing with DOE, the Office of Management and Budget and all the way up to the White House in an effort to stop what has been put in motion.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said he expressed his surprise and disappointment to Moniz when the news broke on Friday and that he, too, is urging the administration to reconsider. If it doesn’t, however, he said he will be ready to help local officials do what they can to assist the workers who will be displaced. Centrus Energy said Friday that there are about 280 employees at the Centrifuge site.

Others in the Ohio delegation also pledged to remain involved.

“We are trying to work to somehow get this reversed and maybe get another set of eyeballs on it and see if they can reconsider this decision if it makes sense for them to do that,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, representing northeast Ohio in the state’s 13th District. “If not (successful), work through the appropriations committee, which I sit on, and the defense appropriations subcommittee and the energy subcommittee and really try to dig in and find maybe another use commercially for that facility or something else.

“Again, we’ve got to find something here. We know what the economy is like in southern Ohio and these were really good-paying jobs and we have an obligation to really go out there and find something that can utilize that facility or bring other economic growth to southern Ohio.”

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger has also weighed in, sending his own letter to Moniz and OMB Director Shaun Donovan this week regarding the situation at the gaseous diffusion plant, calling the type of job cuts being talked about “disastrous to the southern Ohio economy.”

Click here to see the original article.