DOE reduces funding for American Centrifuge; emphasis to shift from Piketon to Oak Ridge in FY 2016

The Department of Energy, via Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is reducing the funds available for the American Centrifuge project, and the future emphasis on the project will shift from the cascade operations at Piketon, Ohio, and go instead to the development work taking place at Oak Ridge.centrifugemach

Centrus Energy Corp., the project contractor, confirmed the changes taking place in a statement on its website.

“Oak Ridge National Laboratory  has informed Centrus that it intends to extend its contract with the Company at a reduced level for research on the world’s most advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges. DOE’s decision to provide reduced funding will support continued developments of the company’s American Centrifuge technology – which have long-term importance for our national and energy security,” the Centrus statement said.

“The new contract will cover the period from October 1, 2015, to September 30, 2016, with the possibility for additional extensions. It excludes continued operations of America’s only operating cascade of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in Piketon, Ohio. Funding will be reduced by approximately 60 percent to $35 million per year, and the scope of activities will be limited to development activities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.”

Centrus VP Steve Penrod said in a statement that the company was obviously disappointed by the reduced funding plan, but said “we appreciate the Laboratory’s recognition that the technology has been effectively demonstrated over the last two years of hard work at Piketon.” He said Centrus would work with the lab and Congress to maintain the core capabilities of the uranium-enrichment program.

The announcement drew strong criticisms in Ohio, according to a report by the Associated Press.

On Friday, Shelley Laver, a spokeswoman for DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, provided this statement explaining the federal agency’s priorities:

“Operations at the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio with the 120-centrifuge cascade in FY 2014 and FY 2015 have successfully provided useful reliability and operational data, as well as enabled the identification and development of solutions to certain technical complications. We have concluded that continued support from the federal government for additional data from Piketon operations has limited remaining value. Ongoing activities at the K-1600 facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, however, could provide additional value.

“Therefore, for FY 2016, DOE intends to inform UT-Battelle (managing contractor at ORNL) that the government’s interest is in preserving and advancing the AC100 technology for possible future deployment for a national security mission, and directing UT-Battelle to focus its efforts on activities at the K-1600 facility.  We anticipate that UT-Battelle will initiate discussions with Centrus Energy Corporation to satisfy these interests.”

Centrus earlier issued notices to about 145 workers in Oak Ridge warning them about the possibility of layoffs depending on DOE funding., More than 200 such notices were issued to Ohio workers. Based on the announcement of the 2016 plan, it appears that layoffs will more likely be carried out in Ohio, rather than Oak Ridge, alhtough there have been no details regarding the Centrus workforce plans at this time.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.