USEC may leave Paducah
MCCRACKEN COUNTY, Ky. — A company announces it may leave a local city, leaving a lot of people who rely on it asking, what will happen next?
Employees got the same unsettling message. The company they work for might be leaving town within just a few short months.
The United States Enrichment Corporation sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy and all Paducah USEC employees stating they may cease operations at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant by May of this year.
While the uranium enrichment process may be difficult to understand, the reasons USEC might leave Paducah are simple. Number one: the price of power. USEC's contract with TVA for power to run the plant ends in May.
Rates have gone up. Right now, USEC'S trying to get cheaper power.
Also in question is the demand for enriched uranium. The uranium is sold and then used in nuclear reactors but the question is, is the demand for enriched uranium great enough to extend operations in Paducah? Right now, the market is shrinking, especially after the earthquake in Japan in March 2011.
Third: permission to re-enrich uranium.
There's old depleted uranium at the plant that the Department of Energy wont allow USEC to touch. They want permission to re-enrich that uranium. Right now, they don't have permission to do so.
USEC might leave Paducah in May.
But the United Steelworkers local vice president Jim Key explained for the workforce, the news might not be as bad as it sounds.
If USEC decides to cease operations in May, the plant then goes back to the U.S. Department of Energy. One of two things could happen at that point: the DOE could lease the plant to another company like USEC, who would hire virtually the same workforce and keep enriching uranium, or the DOE would put the plant in so-called standby mode, which would save some jobs and others would be lost.
While the information coming from the global energy company is troubling for some, others at Hughes Market just up the road have seen other companies operate the Paducah Plant.
Store owner Alan Hughes and his father Robert depend on USEC employees to stay in business but they remain confident.
Hughes can't imagine a world where no company operates the plant. If USEC leaves, he hopes another company steps up to the plate.
"Somebody's got to enrich it," Hughes said. "Can't do it in the back yard."
The local union vice president and USEC said they're confident the Department of Energy will let some company do something with that old depleted uranium, commonly called "tails". Right now, it's just sitting there but if re-enriched, it would provide a profitable product and reduce waste.