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Co. Seeks Govt. Help To Buy Uranium

November 20, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Congress ended this year’s session Friday without giving financial help to the American company that takes Russia’s weapons-grade uranium out of circulation.

But negotiations continued between the company and the Clinton administration, and some kind of aid early next year remained possible.

Meanwhile, the United States Enrichment Corp. said it was looking for ways to cut costs, both because of the money-losing Russian deal and because of a worldwide drop in the price of nuclear power plant fuel.

Layoffs at USEC’s processing centers in Ohio and Kentucky were among the options, but no decision had been made, spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said.

Staffing levels and a discussion of whether to pull out of the Russian deal were on the agenda for a meeting next Wednesday of USEC’s board, which faces a Dec. 1 deadline for deciding whether to continue as the government’s agent after 2000.

USEC, a private company, operates the nation’s only uranium enrichment plants. It buys diluted weapons-grade uranium from Russia and sells the now low-enriched uranium to utilities for use in power reactors.

The company has asked the government to make up the difference between the price it can get for diluted warhead uranium and the price its contract requires it to pay Russia _ about $200 million.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley, R-Va., said Friday he plans to step up his investigation of both USEC and the handling of the Russian deal.

``It appears that the Clinton administration was asleep at the wheel when it came to protecting our national security,″ Bliley said. ``Now at the eleventh hour, the administration is struggling to respond to USEC’s threat to pull out of the Russian HEU (highly enriched uranium) agreement.″

Another critic, Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, has complained about the company’s decisions to spend $100 million to prop up its stock price and to pay shareholders another $100 million in dividends.

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