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Ohio wins bid for $1.5 billion, 500-worker uranium plant

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio has been chosen over Kentucky for a $1.5 billion plant that will use updated technology to enrich uranium for power plant reactors.

The facility at the shuttered Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, which previously had been used for uranium processing, will employ 500 and will be operating by the end of the decade, USEC Inc. president Nick Timbers said yesterday. USEC had considered building the plant at either Piketon or Paducah, Ky.

The company owns plants at both sites that have produced enriched uranium using the old method of gaseous diffusion.

The new plant will use centrifuge processing, a more efficient technology already in use in several other countries.

Construction is expected to begin in 2006.

Piketon is about 65 miles south of Columbus.

The new plant will produce enriched uranium faster than any other centrifuge facility, the company said. When it's fully operational, it will produce enough uranium each year to fuel 30 power plants, each providing electricity to a city the size of Memphis, Tenn., or El Paso, Texas.

The new facility will replace the 1,350-employee Paducah plant, which would continue operating until 2010.

The company halted uranium production at Piketon in 2001 and cut 530 jobs as it consolidated operations at Paducah. The Ohio plant was kept on standby with 1,200 workers maintaining it and doing environmental cleanup.

Centrifuge processing is not new to the Portsmouth plant. The Energy Department spent $3 billion to develop the technology there two decades ago, but that project was abandoned.

Timbers said the Piketon site was chosen largely because using buildings and infrastructure remaining from that earlier project will reduce costs.

The Bush administration has pledged to spend $70 million this year to clean the existing buildings.

Another advantage for Ohio was that the Paducah plant is close to the New Madrid earthquake fault, which could require additional expense.

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