Funding for Piketon cleanup in jeopardy, Portman warns

The spending bill that Congress will vote on this week includes money to clean up the old Portsmouth Gaseious Diffusion Plant in southeast Ohio, but Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he’s worried about a decision by the Trump administration to change how the cleanup is paid for. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

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The spending bill that Congress will vote on this week includes money to clean up the old Portsmouth Gaseious Diffusion Plant in southeast Ohio, but Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he’s worried about a decision by the Trump administration to change how the cleanup is paid for. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

The spending bill that Congress will vote on later this week includes $274 million to clean up an abandoned nuclear site in southeast Ohio, but an Ohio senator is concerned that the long term prospects for cleaning up that plant might be in danger.

The former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, placed in cold shutdown in 2010, is being cleaned up and redeveloped for future use, but it’s slow going. According to Sen. Rob Portman’s office, the current cleanup efforts will be finished by 2044, though portions of the site can be turned over earlier than that.

Funding in recent years has been a combination of federal dollars and the sale of uranium.

Portman’s office said it received a surprise last week when the Trump administration said it planned to reduce the amount of uranium that the decommissioned nuclear site could sell.

That reduction — meant to protect the flagging price of uranium — could reduce the amount of money that can be used to clean up the site, according to Portman.

The timing, in particular, was worrisome to Portman, who said the administration announced the plan at around 3 p.m. on Friday — after congressional negotiators had already finalized their federal spending bill. Portman’s office contacted the clean-up contractor, who said austerity measures would be used to offset the reduction in money.

Portman, R-Ohio, also called Energy Secretary Rick Perry to complain, according to his office, saying the Energy Department should’ve alerted lawmakers about the plan to reduce the uranium sale.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also expressed concern about the policy change.

“This plant has already faced so much uncertainty over the past several year, and I’m concerned this decision by the Trump Administration and Secretary Perry will leave us with a bigger gap to make up in next year’s appropriation process. We need these jobs in southeast Ohio and DOE must work with us so cleanup can continue in the future.”

The administration has not yet released its budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in October. Portman said he has urged Perry to request additional funds in his budget request for FY 2018 in order to prevent layoffs.

The $274 million that Congress will vote on this week is for a $1 trillion spending bill paying for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Congress has been paying for the government through short-term spending bills since October.

The former nuclear site, near Piketon, has struggled in recent years. Last year, then-Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz decided to discontinue a pilot project to enrich uranium at the former plant, shifting the resources instead to Oak Ridge, Tenn.

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