FALCONER - U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is pushing the Department of Energy to clean up its act when it comes to buying from a local company.
Schumer visited RHI Monofrax, on New York Avenue in Falconer, on Monday for a tour of the factory. Additionally, Schumer called on the Department of Energy to ensure the financial security of RHI Monofrax and expedite the purchase of materials the company produces for the government to clean up nuclear waste.
"We have 250 good-paying jobs here," Schumer said during a press conference. "I want to see that they stay here and maybe grow, but certainly not shrink because of a rather-odd decision of the federal government, which we are going to have to try to change."
OBSERVER?Photo by Liz Skoczylas
Caryl Clendenen, RHI Monofrax plant manager, provides narration during a tour of the company to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, right.
RHI Monofrax is the sole-approved producer of the materials to clean nuclear waste worldwide. It has a contract to provide the Department of Energy with $75 million worth of this product. However, in order to produce this product, RHI Monofrax has to devote 20 percent of its production resources exclusively to this project, although the Department of Energy only plans to order the product in small installments over the course of 25 years.
"As the sole source supplier for this critical material, we will be contracted to provide approximately $75 million worth of material to the Department of Energy," said Daryl Clendenen, plant manager. "We clearly want to make good on this commitment, not only for our workers, but also because it is critical for cleaning up the nuclear waste at sites across the country. However, the slow ordering pace by the Department of Energy is placing us in financial difficulty. Dedicating one of our furnaces to this production puts us at a competitive disadvantage in the industry."
Due to the chemicals used in the process to produce the materials the Department of Energy needs, RHI Monofrax must devote one of its five kilns exclusively to the project, although, at the current ordering pace, it only takes the company a short time to produce all of the material the department needs for a year. RHI Monofrax is then faced with the choice to allow the kiln to sit idle for the rest of the year, or to pay for the cleaning of the kiln, only to re-contaminate it the following year when the Department of Energy orders more product.
If the Department of Energy were to expedite its order in larger installments, like Schumer discussed Monday, it would allow RHI Monofrax to repurpose the kiln to other projects for other customers.
"If we had the flexibility to produce the entire order ahead of the 35-year need, the DOE could stockpile the material," Clendenen said. "This would not only help our community and the local jobs, but it would also ensure that the DOE has the material they need and likely save them money in the long run."
Schumer was also joined by County Executive Greg Edwards; Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi; Bill Daly, administrative director for County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency; Vince DeJoy, director of development for the city of Jamestown; and employees and union leaders from RHI Monofrax. David Leathers, general manager of the BPU, was unable to attend the event, but was also acknowledged for the BPU's contribution to RHI Monofrax.
"Clearly, we're standing here today with a very important issue of local concern, national concern and international concern," Edwards said. "Each time we have had a situation that has needed Sen. Schumer's attention, he has not only been very generous with his time, he has been very intentional about being here to demonstrate that. When you have very easily the second-most-powerful person in the United States when it comes to the federal government standing right here with us, shoulder-to-shoulder, committing his resources, his leverage to an important issue like this, you know you've done everything you can to have the right person at the right spot at the right time."
Teresi also spoke Monday during the press conference, voicing the city's support of Schumer and RHI Monofrax.
"Economic development doesn't start or stop at the city line or any municipal border, particularly with a company like this," Teresi said. "This is an important project for the entire region, including the city of Jamestown. We are here today to lend our support to the county and also Sen. Schumer's effort to make sure that this company is here today, tomorrow, next year, 10 years from now, 30 years from now, employing people and shipping product all over the world."
Daly explained to the OBSERVER that it was during a standard call to RHI Monofrax that the problem was discovered. Following that call, Edwards became involved, which eventually led to Schumer's involvement and his call to speed up the Department of Energy's buying schedule.
"We've got to be on the ball all the time," Daly said. "You can't solve everything, but you've got to try to be in as many places as you can at once."
RHI Monofrax is the sole-approved provider of glass contact refractory material in the world, and the only fusion cast refractory facility in the Americas. The company employs more than 8,100 employees worldwide. It produces materials that can withstand high temperatures used for vitrification the state-of-the-art means of storing and disposing of nuclear waste, which essentially turns the waste into glass. This allows the waste to be immobilized and sealed so it can be safely stored and disposed.