The US Department of Energy (DoE) has issued a plan to help 850 workers who will be laid off by the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) this summer. The redundancies are part of a cost cutting drive by USEC, which anticipates a “substantially lower income for fiscal year 2001 and beyond.” They will fall equally between the company’s two plants at Padukah, Kentucky and Portsmouth, Ohio.
Shares in the privatised enrichment company have fallen from $14.50, when it was privatised in July 1998, to $4.50.
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has expressed disapproval at the redundancies and the DoE plan is aimed at softening the blow. “I do not support USEC’s announcement,” he said. “While the DoE cannot reverse USEC’s decision, I will not just stand by.” The DoE plan involves creating between 20 and 45 jobs at the Padukah plant to clean up and remove a ‘mountain’ of waste drums; 150 jobs through new funds for environmental, waste management and other remediation work; and 325 jobs over the next three years through the Padukah Area Community Reuse Organ- isation, which was provided with $6 million to offset job losses through the development of small businesses. The DoE is also likely to hire a company to maintain 57 000 cylinders at both sites which contain depleted uranium hexafluoride.
Under the privatisation agreement USEC is limited to 250 redundancies a year for the first two years, but these limits do not apply beyond 1 July 2000. The agreement also stipulates that USEC must keep both plants operating until 2005. Coupled with its commitment to buy Russian weapons grade uranium and convert it to reactor fuel, USEC is complaining that its ability to become more competitive is severely hampered.
“We are the only people in the world who were privatised but couldn’t cut costs,” USEC representative Elizabeth Stuckle told NEI. “We are encouraging the unions, the DoE and Congressional organisations to provide other job opportunities.” David Fuller of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union, said the federal government has betrayed workers at the plants.
“These people’s jobs and livelihood have been sacrificed by their own government,” he said. “This has made Wall Street rich, politicians happy, the Russians happy and USEC headquarters happy. The only losers in this sweet deal are some workers in two remote little areas out in the hinterlands.” While the share price has fallen and significant cuts in the workforce implemented, chief executive officer William Timbers has had his salary, stock and other remuneration grow from $350 000 in 1997 to $2.4 million last year.