WASHINGTON, D.C – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) – questioning Secretary of Energy Rick Perry at an Energy & Natural Resources Committee hearing today on the president’s FY 2019 Budget request – secured a commitment from Perry to continue supporting the cleanup work being done at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon.  The decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) work at Piketon employs roughly 1,800 people. Last month, Portman visited the plant and announced he had secured a commitment from the Department of Energy (DOE) to clean up the existing landfills and plumes at the plant.

In addition, Secretary Perry agreed that having a domestic uranium enrichment capability is a national security issue and should be a priority. Perry indicated that he is re-evaluating the Obama Administration’s decision to end the domestic uranium enrichment demonstration program – known as the American Centrifuge Plant, which operated at Piketon – because having domestic enrichment capabilities would provide stability and security to our country.

A transcript of the exchange can be found below and a full video can be found here.

Senator Portman: Secretary Perry, I appreciate you making good on your promise, which was made during the confirmation process, to come out to the Portsmouth gas fusion plant. We heard talk of it earlier. It is in Piketon, Ohio. For 50 years, it enriched uranium for our government, for our nuclear navy, for our nuclear power plants, for the tritium we need in our nuclear arsenal. And the workers at that plant made a lot of sacrifices, some health issues, and now we are cleaning up that plant. To my colleague from Wyoming who has departed, he talked about the need for us to stop using barter. Well, unfortunately we have had to rely on barter because in the previous administration, they did not provide us with the appropriations. In fact, they even slowed down the cleanup from 2025 to 2044, so they slowed it down about 20 years with the funding they provided even including the bartering, which is a huge mistake not just for that site and the safety of that area and the reindustrialization that everyone wants, but also for the taxpayer because it ends up costing the taxpayer a lot more when you extend the life of these cleanups. So, we need the funding. I just did a little research. There were 323 mining jobs in Wyoming last year in Uranium. When the funding was to be cut off at Piketon, as you know, 800 jobs were on the chopping block. We have 1,800 people who are doing this cleanup. I’ve seen what they do firsthand, they are great people. There are doing it in a smart, committed way, but, man, this funding goes up and down and the barter being pulled would obviously create, again, this crisis out there where we lose a lot of good people, and we need them, and it’s a community that has very high unemployment already. So I guess what I am suggesting today is let’s not pull the plug on the barter until we have the appropriations and I guess I am looking for a commitment from you today that you will continue the barter program unless adequate appropriations are provided in the funding for FY18 and FY19 with regard to the Piketon Plant.

Secretary Perry: Yes sir, I am committed to the cleanup of that plant. My preference obviously is to have it appropriated in the old fashion way if you will from a straight up appropriation where your citizens and the workers at that plant know that Congress is committed to the funding of that through a normal appropriation. Obviously, if that does not happen, and I have shared that with Senator Barrasso, if that does not happen the commitment to that cleanup is there and it is solid and it is long term.

Senator Portman: Thank you, and I appreciate it, Mr. Secretary, and I appreciate your commitment to it. We’re just trying to clean this thing up. It’s not good for the area, it’s not good for the taxpayer. The other issue, as you well know because I have talked about this and you saw the site, the Obama administration toward the end of its term pulled the plug on the new generation of enrichment. So I listen to my good friend and my colleague from Wyoming say, “if we don’t have this money,” he said, “we would lose our ability to produce our own nuclear fuel,” but we have already lost it. We don’t have any domestic-owned or domestic-controlled enrichment process in the country now because we have shut down Piketon, shutdown Paducah, and we were on track under the previous administration to, through the ACP program which is the American Centrifuge Project, create that with this new much more energy efficient technology called centrifuge. So, my question to you is: are you aware of the fact that there was going to be a reevaluation of the Obama administration’s approach to this, I believe you talked about it in your confirmation, and if so, what are the results of that? Do we have any sense as to where we are going on the next generation of enriched uranium?

Secretary Perry: Yes sir, the short answer is yes sir. We’re working towards that as we speak. I think my commitment to bringing the civil nuclear program back to one of stability and, frankly, to lead the world is pretty much on display. It has been. We think that there has been, for whatever reason, I’m not going to call it an anti-nuclear mentality, but the civil nuclear business has been left by the wayside. Whether it is building new plants here, whether it has been committing to small modular reactors, we have tried to reinvigorate that to send clear message that this country needs to lead the world in civil nuclear technology and these centrifuges are obviously an important part of that process.

Senator Portman: I appreciate that. We need to have a source for enriched uranium. We also need it for our nuclear navy, you know as well as anybody. We also need it for our tritium because that lowly enriched uranium is necessary to keep our nuclear arsenal up to date and finally from a national security point of view, in terms of nonproliferation, maybe the single most important thing we can do as Americans is say, “if you don’t enrich uranium in your country,” which often, as you know, has been diverted into nuclear weapons programs, Iran being the greatest example, “we will provide you that enriched uranium.” We can’t do that now. We can’t tell people we can provide them enriched uranium. We do have a stock pile admittedly, but we have no program to be able to continue that. And by not having a commitment to it, to restart it is going to take billions of dollars and years and years, and I just wish that we get started on it now so that we have that capability into the future. I thank you very much and I appreciate your service.

 

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