Bryan Cohen Jul. 23, 2013, 6:20pm

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Legal Newsline) - Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway met with the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday to talk about the future of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Conway met with Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman, the department's point person on the Paducah plant. The two discussed attempts to clean up nuclear material from the site and how to preserve jobs at the plant that result from enriching uranium.

While the DOE owns the plant, the plant is operated by USEC Inc., a company with a questionable economic future. In May, USEC announced it was ending uranium enrichment at the plant in June. The plant employs 1,100 people.

"I expressed my concerns to senior energy department officials that Kentucky is tired of bearing the brunt of costs associated with new environmental policies curbing the use of coal, and now when it is the federal government's responsibility to clean up an environmental mess here in the commonwealth, this administration must not turn its back on the environment and the people of Kentucky," Conway said. "That's unacceptable, and I won't stand idly by and let that happen."

Conway asked Poneman to increase funding for cleanup at the Paducah site over the next few budget cycles. Currently, $142 million is set aside annually in the federal budget to clean up the site. Conway asked officials to provide his office with an accounting record of how the current $142 million per year for cleanup was spent.

Poneman said the DOE is requesting an additional $35 million in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget to raise cleanup funding to $177 million. Officials agreed to provide Conway with a detailed accounting record of budget expenditures.

Conway's visit follows a visit by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. Beshear and Conway both expressed to officials that offers to retool or reopen the plant with a new operator must be sped up to preserve jobs and reduce cleanup costs.

"We are presenting a united front on behalf of Western Kentucky," Conway said. "Former Vice President Alben Barkley helped bring this plant to Paducah, and Paducah has stood by the federal government for 60 years, helping produce energy for this country. It's time now for the United States government to stand by the people of Paducah and do what's right."

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