FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant will continue operating for another year and preserve 1,200 jobs, at least temporarily, under a deal announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the beleaguered plant that was set to close later this year will enrich depleted uranium for the Tennessee Valley Authority and Energy Northwest, a utility in Washington state.
"After much hard work, the Energy Department, in cooperation with the other organizations, has identified a creative path forward to utilize a portion of our depleted uranium inventory in a way that brings together the public and private sector to advance America's national security interests at a reduced cost to taxpayers," Chu said in a statement.
Chu said the arrangement involves transferring a portion of the Department of Energy's depleted uranium to Energy Northwest, which will contract with USEC Inc. to do the enrichment at Paducah and sell some of the uranium to the TVA. The deal also calls for the extension of an agreement between TVA and the National Nuclear Security Administration to produce tritium for the nation's nuclear weapons program for up to 15 years.
"This is wonderful and welcome news not just for the employees of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, but for all of Paducah and our state," said Gov. Steve Beshear in a statement. "I have had several conversations with Secretary Chu about the importance of this facility. And many others — including Paducah's city and business leaders and our state's congressional delegation — have worked very hard to forge a consensus that allowed this decision today. We are grateful for all those efforts."
Beshear said the arrangement "means our hard-working families will have an additional year of employment, and the community will have additional time to determine next steps."
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has worked for years to keep the Paducah plant operating, said Tuesday he was pleased by the agreement.
"I am encouraged that all parties involved were able to come together and agree on a deal that will provide some certainty to the workers and the community," McConnell said. "They have been waiting far too long."
U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., who has been pushing legislation since 2007 that would extend the life of the Paducah plant, said the agreement is important for the Paducah workers.
"But there is more to be done," he said. "We must continue to work together to ensure a viable transition plan is developed as this plant faces eventual closing."