U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry postponed his visit scheduled for Monday to the southern Ohio home of a former Cold War-era uranium plant.
Perry was slated to visit the cleanup site of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon. In a statement, he said he had to be at a Cabinet meeting Monday in Washington but hoped to reschedule the visit.
Ohio’s U.S. senators, Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, have urged Perry to get a firsthand look at the cleanup work and its role in the region’s economy.
Commissioners from four southern Ohio counties wrote to Perry asking for continued funding for the cleanup, which produces some of the best-paid jobs in an area with high unemployment. However, Piketon’s mayor expressed concerns about a possible onsite waste disposal facility.
The plant was once a top facility for enriching uranium for the defense industry, as well as other uses, employing as many as 3,000 workers. The facility was placed in “cold shutdown” about seven years ago, when a cleaning and redevelopment project began.
Officials have struggled to keep federal funding flowing for the cleanup and rehab work and the jobs that come with it.
Before the postponement, a press release announcing Perry’s visit said Portman “has worked every year to secure the funding necessary to keep the cleanup project on track and to protect jobs. Previously, Portman grilled former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz for his department’s failure to use funding provided by Congress and therefore causing layoffs in Piketon. Portman repeatedly called on the Obama Administration to uphold their promises to the Piketon community to provide adequate funding to avoid layoffs.”
A spokesperson for Portman’s office told The Times-Gazette that roughly 2,000 jobs remain at the plant.
Ohio Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-2nd Dist.) issued a statement saying, “The people of southern Ohio have made great sacrifices to support the DOE’s mission of maintaining our nuclear deterrent and the infrastructure that supports it – and they continue to make those sacrifices today through the DOE’s cleanup operations at the Piketon site.”