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US lawmakers ask White House for more direct funding for uranium site cleanup in southern Ohio

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PIKETON, Ohio — The state's congressional delegation is urging the White House to fully fund the decontamination and decommissioning of a Cold War-era uranium plant in southern Ohio where hundreds of workers feared layoffs last fall amid budget concerns.

Now lawmakers, local officials and workers are looking ahead to September, when the current fiscal year ends, and getting a jump on lobbying for a change in the funding.

In a letter Thursday to the White House budget director, lawmakers said cleanup of the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon needs stable funding and shouldn't depend on the global uranium market, as it largely does now. They noted that hundreds of layoffs on the project were scheduled late last year because of projected financial shortfalls, though those cuts ultimately were averted because of $209 million in funding approved by Congress for the current year.

That situation "makes it clear that robust funding for D&D operations at the site are more necessary now than ever before," the letter said.

The U.S. Department of Energy runs the cleanup, which employs more than 1,800 people and offers some of the best-paying jobs in a pocket of high unemployment. Much of the funding for the project comes from uranium transfers, which creates financial and job uncertainty because officials don't know how much prices will fluctuate.

The lawmakers' letter says decontamination and redevelopment of the site is critical for southern Ohio, and it asks that the president's next annual budget provide full funding for the cleanup.

The lead cleanup contractor, Fluor-B&W Portsmouth, said it appreciates the lawmakers' support.

"We hope these efforts will bring the budgetary certainty that Ohio, our workers and communities need to complete this project," site project director Dennis Carr said in a statement.

Pike County Commissioner Blaine Beekman said a variety of stakeholders are united in pushing for reliable funding, and he praised the letter as a sign of that.

"It's moving from reactive to proactive," he said.

The letter was sent by Ohio's senators, Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, and the area's representative, Republican Brad Wenstrup. A bipartisan group of 11 of Ohio's other 15 representatives also signed it.

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