Source: ChillicotheGazette | Chris Balusik | September 14, 2015
Had this been a personal relationship, that would have been the breakup line the U.S. Department of Energy would have used to part ways with the community of stakeholders involved with work on the DOE site in Piketon.
Between Friday’s announcement that funding for the American Centrifuge Plant will end Sept. 30 and the ongoing threat to 325 to 500 jobs at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, the four-county area that provides the majority of the manpower for the DOE site is starting to take on the appearance of a jilted lover who has suffered throughout a long, dysfunctional relationship.
There’s good reason for that appearance. After basically staying mum on what its plans were for the Centrifuge project when funding was set to expire Sept. 30, the DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration broke their silence this week to say they appreciated all of the work done in Piketon to hone the centrifuge technology and help find solutions to its flaws. Now that that’s been done, however, they decided the resources to take it to the next level should be shifted to a facility in Tennessee.
In relationship terms, it’s nothing you’ve done wrong, southern Ohio, but now that we’ve gotten what we wanted out of you, it’s time to turn to a sexier model.
Stunned, dumbfounded and astounded were some of the words used in the reaction to the announcement by members of Ohio’s congressional delegation, the local United Steel Workers president and others involved with the site.
Despite years of suffering through ups and downs that included being teased with the possibility of securing a $2 billion loan guarantee, facing threats of demobilization of the project and repeatedly finding new hope that the relationship could be saved, the people working on the centrifuge project in Piketon are being left with the equivalent of a thank-you card and “let’s keep in touch” message.
While the relationship at the diffusion plant hasn’t brought about separation, those attending a Wednesday town hall meeting about looming funding cuts that could cost hundreds of jobs starting next month had the weary look of people who have been in a difficult situation for far too long. There was an air of resignation in a room that once may have displayed more anger and defiance at the treatment bestowed upon it but that now has accepted the fact that the threat of funding cuts and job losses have become an annual ritual to be endured and hopefully survived.
Like that jilted lover, there were expressions of broken promises aimed at the DOE and that “we never talk anymore” — nobody from the agency attended the meeting despite being invited and very little about the decision-making process is being conveyed to local officials.
There was a realization that if begging is what is needed to salvage the relationship, that’s what needs to be done through letter-writing campaigns, phone calls and lobbying in Washington.
The need for begging involving the DOE site may come as a surprise to some. When Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was selected to take on his post in 2013, the selection was applauded by lawmakers and officials from what was then USEC Inc. as being a positive one for Piketon operations because Moniz was familiar with the site from time spent as a member of USEC’s Strategic Advisory Council from 2002 to 2004. USEC developed the American Centrifuge project.
Additionally, a decision in April of 2014 to turn control of the American Centrifuge project over to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory was hailed as a move that would provide more certainty for the future of the Piketon workforce by demonstrating a federal commitment to the centrifuge technology. Turns out, it appears to be the Tennessee workers where Oak Ridge is located who will benefit most from the move.
While jobs are certainly the primary factor behind the importance of the issue, the fundamental psychological issue for the community at large is hope. How many times can hopes be raised that jobs at the DOE site are stable enough to support long-term planning for your family? How many times can those hopes be threatened and then saved by a last-minute maneuver as was done at the gaseous diffusion plant last year? How many times can those hopes be dashed completely, as they have at the American Centrifuge?
Healthy relationships are a two-way street in which both sides have equal say in making the relationship work. The question that remains for the people invested in the future at the Piketon site is whether the federal government is committed to that relationship or whether it will one day disappear, leaving behind nothing more than a Dear John letter and a rose on the pillow.
Centrus Energy’s response to Centrifuge announcement
Late Friday evening, Centrus Energy announced that Oak Ridge National Laboratory intends to extend its contract with Centrus for a year with an overall funding reduction of about 60 percent — but that extension will be limited to continued operation of a test facility and engineering work in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and will not include continuing American Centrifuge operations in Piketon. Updated figures provided by the company state there are about 280 technical and other staff involved in the project in Piketon.
“In the coming weeks, we will explore options to protect the technology and our workers in Ohio, whose expertise, creativity, and dedication represent an invaluable asset for the nation,” said Centrus President and CEO Daniel Poneman. “Cuts to our workforce would impose hardship on families and communities, while jeopardizing future progress. We will do all that we can to ease transitions while preserving as much of our scientific, technical, and industrial expertise as we can with the available funding.”
The company stated it will evaluate all possible options for the Ohio facility while recognizing that full demobilization of the plant “could raise costs and technical risk while extending the construction timeline of any subsequent effort to reconstitute that capability.”