The U.S. Department of Energy rejected a proposal Friday that would have extended operations at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
The decision means some 1,100 employees will lose their jobs, drawing immediate reactions from Kentucky's top political leaders.
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear were among those who lamented the DOE's decision in statements released Friday afternoon.
Beshear called the news disappointing and painful even though he said it had been expected.
"We know there are 1,100 very talented and hardworking people at that facility, and we had hoped that an alternative might have been found to keep it open," the governor said. "As disheartening as this news is, we pledge our full assistance and support to the employees and community to absorb this loss and find new opportunities for those skilled and experienced workers."
The Cold War-era plant opened in 1952 to develop enriched uranium for military reactors and to produce nuclear weapons. The plant began selling uranium for commercial reactors in the 1960s, and is now leased and operated by a private contractor, United States Enrichment Corp.
It stores 40,000 cylinders of depleted uranium.
The plant had been scheduled for closure last year, but it got a reprieve under a temporary deal to enrich depleted uranium for Tennessee Valley Authority and Energy Northwest, a utility in Washington state.
Some employees at the western Kentucky plant near the border with Illinois had already received layoff notices.
"Paducah is a strong, resilient city full of dependable, creative people," Beshear said. "We are confident that those characteristics will carry citizens through this difficult time."
McConnell released a joint statement with fellow Republicans U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield expressing disappointment that the DOE had been unable to reach an agreement to extend operations at the Paducah plant for another four months.
"We will work to ensure that DOE fulfills its responsibility to sufficiently clean up the site and determine a long-term solution to utilize the facility and its assets," their statement said. "We believe there are proposals that were submitted to DOE that offer promising economic development and job creation potential for the community and we expect DOE to move quickly on its decision."
The three have requested a meeting with Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.
United States Enrichment Corp., which operates the Paducah plant, had applied to the federal government in February to keep the facility operating beyond May 31.
USEC leases the plant site from the DOE, which owns 3,556 acres on the property 15 miles west of Paducah.