Beshear intercedes on behalf of Paducah plant


FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Steve Beshear has joined with members of Kentucky's congressional delegation to press the Department of Energy to keep Paducah's government-owned nuclear enrichment plant operating.

If the Obama administration does not intervene, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant is scheduled to cease operations later this year, eliminating about 1,200 jobs.

Beshear sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Monday, saying lack of action by the department is putting a major economic engine in western Kentucky at risk. He had sent a similar letter a year ago.

"A year of inaction and lack of substantive dialogue with the commonwealth on this issue is presenting enormous loss of opportunity to move forward with a viable program," the Democratic governor wrote. "For the 1,200 people whose jobs are at risk in my state, this situation is especially untenable."

Beshear's letter was sent just days after Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Ed Whitfield called on Chu and the Obama administration to allow the plant to re-enrich its leftover uranium so it can be sold on the market.

McConnell said last week that hopes for a re-enrichment program appear dim for the Paducah plant, which stores 40,000 cylinders of depleted uranium.

"We're going to give them one more time to change their minds and after that I think people at home will have a clear indication without any ambiguity of where we're headed," McConnell told reporters.

Department of Energy spokesman Damien LaVera said in a statement Thursday that the agency is "continuing to assess potential options for managing our uranium inventories."

The Cold War-era plant opened in 1952 to develop enriched uranium for military reactors and to produce nuclear weapons. The plant began selling uranium for commercial reactors in the 1960s, and is now leased and operated by a private contractor, United States Enrichment Corp.

McConnell questioned Chu about the future of Paducah's plant during a Senate subcommittee meeting in May.

Chu told McConnell at the time that he was concerned about the job losses but said the plant's gaseous diffusion technology is "energy intensive, and I would rather us invest in more forward-leaning technologies."