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TheStreet Open House

Kentucky Plant Closure Disrupts Workers' Lives

By BRUCE SCHREINER

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) â¿¿ Jim Rodgers assumed his job as an electrician at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant would take him all the way to retirement.

After all, for six decades the government-owned uranium-enrichment plant was synonymous with job security and some of the region's best wages. It supported multiple generations and supplied a steady stream of revenue to the community's restaurants, dry cleaners, real estate companies and other local businesses.

And yet, with a decade or more to go in his working life, Rodgers, 53, is now brushing off his resume and looking for a new job, possibly in another city or state.

"It's not one of these little bumps in the road," Rodgers said. "It is literally life changing."

In May, the operators of the Cold War-era plant located a few miles outside Paducah in McCracken County announced they would shut it down. They laid off about 160 employees at the end of last week and expect to let another 100 go in October. Uranium-enrichment work ceased weeks ago.

Altogether, it looks like more than 1,000 workers will be pushed out of their jobs, losing generous salaries that will be nearly impossible to match elsewhere in the region. The McCracken County plant was one of the area's largest employees, and the average salary for plant workers, including benefits, was $125,000.

The plant opened in 1952 to develop enriched uranium for military reactors and to produce nuclear weapons. It began selling uranium for commercial reactors in the 1960s.

The plant has been run by several operators through the years, the most recent being Maryland-based USEC Inc. under a lease deal with the U.S. Department of Energy. USEC announced in May that it was ending work at the plant, citing soft demand for enriched uranium along with steep production costs.

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