Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Money's running out for uranium cleanup

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A closed uranium plant in southern Ohio will lay off 116 workers if the U.S. Department of Energy does not give the plant about $26 million to continue a cleanup program next year, plant officials said Monday.

The deposit removal program at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant uses a chemical process to reduce uranium compounds from the plant's idled equipment. The cleanup will be about 40 percent complete when funding runs out Sept. 30, officials said.

"This cleanup has to be done someday, and we'd like it to be done now," said Elizabeth Stuckle, spokeswoman for USEC Inc., an Energy Department contractor that runs the plant in Piketon, Ohio.

But Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said the current cleanup program was intended to last just three years and will be stopped because it is no longer considered a high priority.

"The deposit removal is not one of the high-risk, accelerated cleanup programs that we would like to focus on at this time," Davis said, adding that overall funding for the plant is expected to increase next year under President Bush's proposed budget.

The federal budget for fiscal year 2004, which starts Oct. 1, has not been approved by Congress, so funding for the cleanup program in question is not final. However, a new contract would be needed to continue the program, Davis said.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, Sen. Mike DeWine, a Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Rob Portman, a high-ranking Republican whose district includes the plant, have been lobbying the Bush administration for the funds.

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