Workers strike at sole U.S. uranium enrichment plant

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

PADUCAH, Ky. -- Half the workers at the nation's only plant that enriches uranium for commercial nuclear power walked off the job Tuesday in a protest over wages, health care and pension issues.

About 620 workers went on strike at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The facility's operator said it would keep the plant running with management taking over some of the tasks.

United States Enrichment Corp., which operates the plant for the Energy Department, will meet customer demands "safely and reliably" with salaried workers, company spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said.

"We will continue all essential work at the plant," Stuckle said.

Kevin Choate, a 15-year worker at the plant, said he wonders how that will be possible if the strike continues more than a few days.

"You have 600 people maintaining it -- with them gone, you can figure it out," Choate said.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors will be at plant for the first 72 hours of the strike to ensure the plant operates safely, commission spokesman Jan Strasma said. Extra inspections are possible to shut down the plant or issue orders if necessary.

Hourly workers in Local 5-550 of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International went on strike after rejecting USEC's latest offer for a five-year contract.

Stuckle said USEC has "made a very fair and competitive offer."

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., said he supports the union's decision to strike, though he wants the dispute settled quickly.

"I thought the union people were pretty reasonable in their requests," Bunning said Tuesday. "It seems to me that USEC is playing hardball with the union."

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