OAK RIDGE, TN (Times Free Press) - The Tennessee Valley Authority is losing its biggest customer today amid growing concerns about rising industrial power rates.

USEC Inc. is shutting down its Paducah, KY., gaseous diffusion plant, ending uranium enrichment at the 61-year-old plant and idling 1,000 employees over the next year.

"While we have pursued possible opportunities for continuing enrichment, (the U.S. Department of Energy) has concluded that there were not sufficient benefits to the taxpayers to extend enrichment," USEC Senior Vice President Robert Van Namen said in announcing the closing last week.

USEC, which has enriched uranium for TVA and other utilities since 1952, accounted for about 5 percent, or nearly $600 million, of TVA power sales last year. But demand for USEC's enriched uranium has plunged as plans for new nuclear plants were scrapped and a global surplus of uranium developed.

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