March Op-Ed for Paducah’s Four Rivers Business Journal
By Dave Adkisson, Kentucky Chamber President and CEO
For decades, Paducah’s Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) has been an anchor for job creation for the entire Western Kentucky region. Unfortunately, this valuable national asset that is so critical to Kentucky’s economy is now being jeopardized by the indecision of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). If the DOE does not develop a viable plan to recycle depleted uranium tails stored at PGDP, the plant will be forced to shut down.
Last month, the Kentucky Chamber and more than a dozen local chambers across the state sent letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu urging him to meet with Kentucky’s congressional delegation and lay out a plan for the future use of the plant.
If allowed to be recycled, the finished product would create a valuable asset for the federal government while helping to extend the operational life of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. This could, in effect, preserve thousands of jobs in the Commonwealth. Extending the life of the plant also will ensure that the DOE can protect the competitive pricing structure based on international competitive market prices. The program requires no appropriations and creates a valuable product that is important to our national security.
The federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) has concluded that recycling the tails at the Paducah plant would generate billions in new revenue and save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. On the other hand, closing the diffusion plant would increase DOE's unfunded program liability by adding a $100 million surveillance and maintenance burden to the department. Kentucky’s elected leaders aren’t taking the inaction by DOE lightly. Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul joined Congressman Ed Whitfield in requesting a personal meeting with DOE to get answers on the future of the plant.
In the current session of the General Assembly, Rep. Will Coursey and House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins have sponsored House Bill 559 which is moving through the legislative process. If passed, the legislation would endorse the recycling of the uranium tails and spent nuclear fuels at the Paducah plant. It would also encourage the production of nuclear power-assisted coal to gas conversion processes that would create jobs and expand the use of the Paducah plant. The Kentucky Chamber supports HB 559 which passed though committee by unanimous consent and continues to work in the halls of the Capitol to urge legislators to support it as well.
The Kentucky Chamber stands ready to defend thousands of Kentuckians and area businesses whose livelihoods depend on the PGDP’s success and future. We will continue to work diligently with our elected officials in Washington, D.C. and Frankfort to help secure this nation’s energy independence by making sure the gates of PGDP stay open.