By David A. Patten | Monday, 28 Sep 2015 09:50 PM
The Obama administration plans to close the last remaining American-owned uranium enrichment facility in the United States, even as it moves forward on a controversial nuclear deal with Iran that permits the Islamic Republic to conduct ongoing and significant uranium enrichment.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has informed Centrus Energy it will end the American Centrifuge project in Piketon, Ohio, on Sept. 30. Notices have been issued to some 235 workers that their jobs are in jeopardy.
“We have concluded that continued support from the federal government for additional data from Piketon operations has limited remaining value,” a joint DOE/National Nuclear Security Administration statement said, reports the Chillicothe Gazette.
“This is beyond belief,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, responded in a statement. “While this administration is greenlighting uranium enrichment in Iran and legitimizing 6,000 Iranian centrifuges, they’re shutting down domestic production here in America.”
Wenstrup called the closure decision “a dangerous threat to our national security.”
In its announcement that it will shutter American Centrifuge, the DOE announced the enrichment technologies developed at Piketon may be transferred to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
As recently as 20 years ago, the United States produced nearly 50 percent of the global supply of enriched uranium. Today, however, U.S. production accounts for only about 10 percent of the global supply, with Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Holland producing the bulk of the world’s enriched uranium.
One Centrus Energy fact sheet warns: “The United States is at risk of losing its only future capability to enrich uranium to meet key national security needs.”
Urenco USA, owned by a consortium of European firms, operates another uranium-enrichment facility in New Mexico.
Noting that Congress has provided full funding for the project, Wenstrup called the DOE’s decision, which was announced on Sept 11, “a shameful and unilateral move.” Centrus Vice President Steve Penrod reacted to the DOE announcement, saying “obviously we are disappointed.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he was “stunned” by the administration’s announcement. He met with workers at the plant this weekend to discuss their options.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the plant is “important to keeping our nation safe and secure for generations to come.” He expressed hope the administration could be persuaded to reverse course on a decision that he termed “shortsighted.”
Without the American Centrifuge Plant, the United States will have to rely on existing supplies of tritium, a radioactive material that about 12.5 years before it decays to the point where it is no longer effective.
Tritium can be used to boost or modulate the yield of a nuclear warhead. Tritium can also be produced by nuclear reactors.
A Centrus Energy fact sheet warns that cuts in U.S. enrichment capability are “potentially causing” U.S. nuclear plants to become dependent on foreign fuel sources. U.S. enriched uranium also plays an important role in powering U.S. Navy submarines and aircraft carriers.