The news does get worse for USEC. In contrast to Iran, which announced its centrifuge venture at the same time as USEC and has now opened a second cascade of over 3,000 third-generation machines, no USEC centrifuge has produced a gram of commercial uranium. Its untested AC-100 centrifuge machines, which are the be-all and end-all of the company, have just passed the 35th anniversary of their unfortunate invention under the Carter Administration. Meanwhile, General Electric’s state-of the-art SILEX enrichment technology is running rings around USEC’s antiquated nondeployed centrifuges by every measure.
And here’s the kicker: USEC’s eight-year overdue test array of showpiece centrifuges in Ohio, for which the federal government has had to pay 80 percent of costs, are not being tested with uranium, so they are producing no useful data. USEC cannot be trusted to run uranium after an embarrassing crash of six centrifuges at Piketon in June 2011. (USEC advertised that catastrophe as maintaining public safety with no release of radiation, failing to clarify that the machines had not been running uranium during the crash.)
USEC’s stated financial plan is to supplement hypothetical DOE loan guarantee funding with a one or two billion-dollar loan from Japanese international banks, about as feasible as a fine arts grant from Bashar Al-Assad. With the Japanese defending themselves against cartoons of three-armed sumo wrestlers at the 2020 Olympics, they are not exactly hot to trot on funding a uranium enrichment plant in Ohio, the product of which has caused them only grief. Perhaps USEC will entice the Japanese by becoming an Olympic sponsor of the Hot Potato Throw or the Strontium-90 Meter Sprint?
Meanwhile, three competitors including Russian TENEX, French AREVA and Euro-American URENCO are spinning out uranium on centrifuges for old USEC customers, and even Iran may work a deal under new leadership to give up its A-Bomb aspirations in exchange for a slice of USEC’s old commercial market. Call it Atoms for Peace with a vengeance.
Despite what was called privatization, the enrichment plants in Ohio and Kentucky always remained under government ownership. USEC’s centrifuges—built with a government technology license for which USEC owes an outstanding royalty of $100 million that will never be paid—were repossessed by the government in the summer of 2012, in preparation for the end of the USEC world. Even USEC’s depleted uranium waste cylinders have reverted to government ownership in a scheme that permitted USEC to cash in its waste disposal surety bonds so bills could be paid.
In effect, USEC privatization has been undone by the DOE without congressional authorization, in explicit violation of the USEC Privatization Act, raising profound constitutional questions. Even though the federal government now owns the entire USEC operation, the company remains almost wholly unregulated as to its payment of lavish executive salaries and proprietary decisions about the disposition of government property, such as its unilateral decision to close the Paducah plant. No “government stake” in the company’s management has been granted, as in the automaker bailouts, because no politician on any level wants any part of USEC’s coming collapse.
The government will be left, however, with future use decisions about the Piketon and Paducah sites. What does the Obama administration or the Congress have planned for the big empty “American Centrifuge” buildings on expensive federal real estate in Ohio’s highest-unemployment county?
Not a thing. It’s too politically sensitive. Piketon is the epicenter of the most critical swing region in Ohio, with a history of tipping presidential and gubernatorial elections. Any move by any agency of the government to apply standing federal law to USEC would bring the roof down on the fraudulent enterprise, risking a backlash against the responsible political party, amounting to acknowledgement that the many billions of taxpayer dollars lavished on USEC have been a scandal and a waste. Or so goes the “off the record” fear.
Just the energy bill for maintaining USEC on artificial respiration has been enormous—the dirtiest energy from Ohio Valley coal plants to keep the smokestacks puffing at USEC’s Paducah and Piketon operations—while the amount of total atomic power produced by USEC’s fifteen-year “advanced technology” rigmarole will in the end be zero.
On the other hand, a lame-duck administration is the time to get this done, and Ohioans would welcome some political candor, since it’s not a state secret any longer that the thousands of centrifuge jobs promised a decade ago will not be coming ever.
Read more at USEC’s Tsunami: Uranium Company Washes Out