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EnergySolutions shake-up brings new boss, new questions

If company goes belly-up, what would happen to Tooele County waste site?

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Outside of Utah, investors and industry analysts remained jittery about the EnergySolutions shake-up. They have been watching intently for more than two years, since the board ousted CEO Steve Creamer.

The longtime Utah businessman, who once advocated a high-level nuclear waste site near Canyonlands National Park, led the purchase of the Tooele County landfillby investment groups in late 2004 and used the disposal site as the foundation for a vastly expanded nuclear conglomerate with waste cleanup, treatment and disposal projects primarily in North America and Europe.

At a glance

What about the Jazz arena?

No changes are in the works for the Energy­Solutions Arena name.

The company landed naming rights for the home court of the Utah Jazz in 2006, and that contract has another four years, according to spokeswoman Linda Luchetti of the Larry H. Miller Group.

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But, barely two years after Creamer took the company public, Christensen, a former Franklin Covey executive, took over as CEO and promised to polish EnergySolutions’ public image and boost its bottom line.

Walker pointed Monday to a recent Dan Jones opinion survey of registered voters that showed Utahns have more confidence in the company than ever, with 72 percent reporting a favorable view of EnergySolutions. It is a sign, he said, that a dogged outreach campaign — many of the ads featuring Christensen — has worked.

But investors instead saw eroding performance.

Lockwood, the new CEO, immediately reached out to them with a 7 a.m. Monday conference call.

He conceded the company’s earnings will fall below projections. Instead of the $150 million to $160 million estimated last month, Lockwood said, the company now expects earnings of $130 million to $140 million.

"Our board is focused on maximizing shareholder value," said Lockwood, adding that the company is rethinking its growth path and profitability. "We know we have years of work ahead of us."

He noted the company has not seen the returns expected on its ZionSolutions nuclear-cleanup project in Illinois and is absorbing higher-than-anticipated costs. Then, on Friday, a trade publication called the RadWaste Monitor reported part of the company — probably the government-projects group — might be up for sale.

That news followed the company’s failure in March to persuade the U.S. Energy Department to reconsider awarding another company a $121.2 million contract to clean up the Atlas uranium tailings outside of Moab. EnergySolutions’ earlier work on that $1 billion project had given the company bragging rights for removing millions of tons of contaminated tailings from the edge of the Colorado River.

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In New York, a federal court is hearing a class-action lawsuit brought against EnergySolutions by investors who accuse the leadership of misleading them after the initial public offering in November 2007.

Al Kaschalk, a financial analyst with Wedbush Securities Inc., has been bullish on the company but lately rated its stock "neutral."

"It’s very clear," he said, "there’s a lot of work to be done."

Whether Lockwood and Wood are the team to lead that effort, Kaschalk declined to say. But he did mention a concern industry insiders have raised: Shouldn’t the leaders of a waste company to have a waste-industry background.

Charles Judd, a vocal critic who once ran the Tooele County site, also wondered whether the new managers would be sensitive enough to locals.

"Back when I was involved in the company," he said, "we thought it was important to keep local ties, especially with Tooele County."


Twitter: @ judyfutah

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