WASHINGTON — Plans for a $5 billion uranium-enrichment project promising hundreds of jobs to southern Ohio were put back on track yesterday when the federal government agreed to provide $280 million for research and development.

The money from the U.S. Department of Energy is aimed at keeping the undertaking afloat for another couple of years until USEC, the company operating an experimental facility in Piketon, can demonstrate that the technology is commercially feasible. Without the money, the project faced the risk of demobilization, including layoffs of the roughly 250 who currently work at the Piketon plant.

If USEC can successfully demonstrate that the technology works, it hopes to qualify for a $2 billion federal loan guarantee — sought for nearly three years by the Maryland-based company — that would enable completion of the project.

And that would mean a total of 400 to 450 permanent operations jobs at Piketon, and a peak of 8,000 jobs across the country (direct and indirect), nearly half in Ohio, according to USEC officials.

The immediate $350 million project — USEC will kick

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