USEC Chief Optimistic on Getting Loan Backing for Piketon Plant

Feds’ approval needed for $4 billion plant to enrich uranium and add needed jobs.

USECWASHINGTON, D.C. – He navigated deep waters as a Navy submarine officer and head of a company that built those massive vessels during a post-Cold War period when the nation’s nuclear-submarine program was being downsized.

So John K. Welch doesn’t try to downplay how big a moment is looming for USEC, the company he has headed since 2005, and for a southern Ohio region hoping for hundreds of good-paying jobs from a new uranium-enrichment plant in Piketon.

Welch expects the U.S. Department of Energy to decide this fall, once and for all, whether to grant the project a $2 billion federal loan guarantee.

A “yes” and it is full steam ahead for USEC and its long-running bid to construct a $4 billion advanced-technology facility producing the material that fuels nuclear power plants. But a “no” likely torpedoes the entire venture.

“There is a good viable business, but we need to make this transition,” Welch said about the loan guarantee. “I’m confident we can do it. We need a loan guarantee to get there so from that aspect, yeah, we’ve got a lot riding on the program.”

In an interview this month at USEC’s headquarters in suburban Washington, Welch acknowledged that he was taken aback when the Energy Department last year rejected USEC’s loan guarantee application.

Energy Department officials questioned the commercial viability of the American Centrifuge technology USEC is trying to deploy – ironically, an updated version of Energy Department-invented technology.

The Obama administration already has given a $2 billion loan guarantee to Areva, a French-based company building an enrichment plant in Idaho. The Energy Department says it can grant a second guarantee, and in late July USEC formally submitted an “update” to its application.

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Source: Jonathan Riskind | The Columbus Dispatch
Photo: USEC