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USEC Looks for New Leadership

Uranium-Enrichment Firm's Board Decides to Part Ways With Chief Executive

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2004; Page E03

If USEC Inc., the Bethesda-based supplier of enriched uranium, were to post a help-wanted ad for a new chief executive, it might read something like this:

Wanted: chief executive of struggling global energy company with $1.5 billion in annual revenue, 2,500 employees, foreign competitors that occasionally resort to dumping, and more than a few disgruntled shareholders. Experience working with foreign governments, acquiring new companies and running a large manufacturing business a plus.

USEC Inc. chief executive William H. Timbers Jr. is out, and the company won't say why. "This is between the board and Timbers," a USEC spokesman said. (Debra G. Lindsey -- The Washington Post)

If it sounds like a hard job to fill, it is.

USEC's directors will shortly begin searching for a replacement for William H. "Nick" Timbers Jr. Last week, they abruptly announced Timbers's departure. USEC Chairman James R. Mellor, a former General Dynamics Corp. chief executive, is filling in until a replacement is hired,

No reason was given for Timbers's departure. "This is between the board and Timbers," said Charles B. Yulish, a company spokesman. Timbers had an initial five-year contract with automatic one-year extensions unless "notice not to renew" was given by either party. Company officials gave no indication who gave notice.

Timbers's departure came as a surprise to USEC workers at its uranium-enrichment plant in Paducah, Ky. "We weren't expecting this," said Phillip Foley, president of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union, Local 5-550, which represents more than 500 USEC employees at the plant.

Timbers, a former investment banker, led USEC through its rocky transition from a government corporation to a publicly traded company. He made a point of bringing in people from outside the nuclear energy field, analysts said. He also drew criticism, such as in 1999, when USEC lobbied for $200 million to make up for losses stemming from a government contract to buy nuclear material from Russia while spending about that much for a stock buyback and dividends.

Timbers could be contentious, as Robert G. Card, former undersecretary of energy, learned two years ago when the two clashed over an agreement to buy blended-down Russian high-enriched uranium. In a letter to Card published in Nuclear Fuel, a trade publication, Timbers accused Card of spreading "inaccurate assertions" about USEC.

Despite Timbers's efforts, USEC remains "a unique experiment in privatization that has yet to prove itself," said Dustin Garrow, a nuclear fuel market expert based in Denver. Many of USEC's competitors are government-owned.

USEC is the world's leading supplier of enriched uranium and the only domestic supplier for commercial nuclear power plants. The United States has more than 100 such plants, which produce about 20 percent of the nation's electricity.

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