USEC To Close Ohio Uranium Plant

Financial problems prompt company to announce closing of safety-troubled facility.

A uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio, one of two plants in the news the past year because of Department of Energy admissions that workers were exposed to radiation for decades, will cease production next year because of financial concerns.

One of the nation''s two uranium enrichment plants in Paducah, Ky., and Piketon, Ohio, in the news for the past year because of Department of Energy admissions that workers were exposed to radiation, may be closed.

The board of directors of the U.S. Enrichment Corp. (USEC), the world''s largest supplier of fuel for civilian nuclear power plants, met Wednesday to decide whether to close the Ohio plant or one in Paducah, Ky. USEC informed federal officials earlier this week that its bad credit rating can activate an escape clause in the agreement the company signed with the government requiring both facilities to remain open until 2005.

About 1,900 people are employed at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Ohio and about 1,700 at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, but a total of 625 people at the two plants are being laid off in July, according to The Associated Press. Both plants blend uranium to the grade needed by electricity-generating plants.

Of the 1,900 workers at Piketon, about 1,400 will lose their jobs. A small part of the plant will remain open with a few hundred workers for four to five years.

Poor credit, low stock prices and insufficient profits have made it clear that drastic action would be needed to turn around the company, a former government enterprise that was spun off in a $1.9 billion stock deal in 1998.

The government still owns the two plants but transferred its uranium inventory to USEC, which operates the facilities, sells the finished uranium to electric power plants and acts as the middleman for worldwide sales of uranium recycled from former Soviet warheads.

by Todd Nighswonger

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