DOE Defends Uranium 'Barter' With Firms for Cleanup Work
The U.S. Dept. of Energy says that the transfer of 2,400 metric tons per year, or MTU, of natural uranium to the joint venture of Fluor Corp. and Babcock & Wilcox as payment for cleanup of a Cold War-era nuclear fuel plant in the Midwest would not adversely affect the domestic uranium industry. DOE's "bartering" approach has come under scrutiny by congressional appropriators; the U.S. Government Accountability Office has called for eliminating the companies as "sales agents" in a report released in April.
The GAO took issue with DOE's using contractors to sell uranium in the nuclear-fuel marketplace and then keeping proceeds as partial payment for cleanup work at its Portsmouth, Ohio, plant. GAO says that, in seven transactions from 2009 through 2011, about 1,900 metric tons of natural uranium were sold that way. The uranium received between $109 and $183 per kilogram, and the proceeds funded more than $250 million in environmental work at the plant.
GAO says that allowing the contractors to keep the proceeds rather than turning them over to the U.S. Treasury is illegal, a violation of "miscellaneous receipts" statutes. Fluor declined comment on the practice.
The congressional watchdog agency suggested that Congress should consider giving DOE explicit authority to "sell uranium for cash and make those proceeds available by appropriation for decontamination and decommissioning expenses at uranium-enrichment plants."
A DOE spokeswoman says Energy Secretary Stephen Chu determined that the transfer of natural uranium to DOE contractors for cleanup services would not have an adverse material effect on the domestic uranium mining, conversion or enrichment industries. "This determination fulfills the requirement in [the law] with respect to transfers of natural and enriched uranium," Chu said in a May 15 statement about DOE's analysis. The report also says that transferring up to 9,156 MTU of depleted uranium to public power producer Energy Northwest in 2012 and 2013 to fuel its reactor would not affect the uranium industry.