USEC sues feds, seeks funds for decontamination

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Maryland company that operated nuclear plants in Kentucky and Ohio is suing the U.S. Department of Energy, claiming the federal government owes it almost $38 million in unpaid fees for decontamination work.

United States Enrichment Corporation claims the federal government failed to properly reimburse the company for work it did under contract at the gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah, Ky., and Pikeston, Ohio, from 2003 through 2011.

The bulk of the money in dispute comes from work done to decontaminate and decommission the Ohio plant. Work at the Paducah plant accounts for about $25,000 of the claim. The company sued May 30 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C.

USEC spokesman Jeremy T. Derryberry told The Associated Press that much of the work involved preparation to decontaminate the two plants. Derryberry said Bethesda-based USEC hoped to avoid litigation.

“The suit was necessitated because of the failure of DOE to timely approve provisional billing rates and to complete — and for a number of the years in question, to even start — audits of the final incurred costs,” Derryberry said.

A spokesman for the Energy Department declined to comment about ongoing litigation.

USEC operated the two plants, which produce enriched uranium by forcing gaseous uranium hexafluoride through semipermeable membranes to create fuel for nuclear power plants, starting in 1993. The Pikeston plant shut down in 2001 after 47 years of operation with its functions merged with Paducah. Since then, a series of companies has been cleaning up and decontaminating the facility.

The U.S. Energy Department announced in May it will shutter Paducah’s operations, causing more than 1,100 workers to be laid off. The plant opened in 1952 to develop enriched uranium for military reactors and to produce nuclear weapons.

USEC and the Energy Department reached a deal in 2001 to transfer the Pikeston plant to “cold standby” and “cold shutdown” mode, which later transitioned to an agreement to completely shut down the facility. USEC alleges that the Energy Department failed to approve invoices from 2003 through 2011.

“The time has come for DOE to pay its bills for work performed by USEC and to stop managing DOE’s funding issues at USEC’s expense,” attorney Thomas Lemmer wrote in the lawsuit.

Contracts to decommission and decontaminate the Paducah plant are in the works. The work request is open for bids to a list of pre-approved companies. A USEC spokeswoman said the company hasn’t been approved to bid.

“The DOE has determined that USEC has a conflict of interest that prevents us from being able to bid on that work,” said company spokeswoman Georgann Lookofsky.

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