The Paducah Sun

Scrap metal recycling plan considered

By Bill Bartleman

The federal government could save millions of dollars in cleanup costs at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant if a plan is approved to recycle thousands of tons of scrap metal, including 9,700 tons of nickel worth at least $37 million.

Most of the scrap is from equipment removed from the plant during an equipment upgrade that was done from 1974 to '83, DOE said. The material has been stored in a scrap yard since then because some of it contains "slight radiological contamination," DOE said, adding that at the time there was no known method to remove it.

DOE said technology now exists to recycle and dispose of the contaminated metals in a manner that is safe to the environment. A recycling/disposal plan is contained in a draft report expected to be made public next month.

Officials said they could not discuss the plan because it is still under review by state and federal regulators, but some details were outlined in a DOE newsletter published last month.

The newsletter said that besides the nickel that coated some of the enrichment processing equipment, the scrap includes 20 tons of stainless steel, 40 tons of copper, 3,200 tons of aluminum and 31,500 tons of iron.

"Material not significantly contaminated, or that can be cleaned up to acceptable levels, would be reused or sold," DOE said. "Proceeds from the sale would help defray the costs of disposing of the rest."

The report did not estimate the value of the material, except to say that "the nickel alone is worth about $37 million."

Also, the newsletter said recycling the material "not only would free resources ... but would protect plant workers and the public in a more timely manner than just disposing of the material, which includes drums, ingots and small and large pieces of metal."

The report estimates that all the nickel can be recycled, 86 percent of the stainless steel, 66 percent of the copper, 6 percent of the iron and only 6 to 7 tons of aluminum.

Scrap that cannot be recycled would be "disposed of in appropriate facilities," the newsletter said.

Paducah economic development officials have been lobbying Congress and DOE officials to build recycling facilities at the Paducah plant.

Doing the work here could create jobs and would be safer than shipping the material elsewhere, they maintain.

The newsletter did not say if the plan called for the recycling to be done here or elsewhere. That information could be in the full report.

The newsletter did say that in devising the plan to remove the scrap, "DOE considered exposure to plant workers, people involved in recycling or transporting materials, and potential exposure to the environment."

If the plan is approved, it would take about 40 months to clear the plant of the scrap metals, according to a spokesman with the Kentucky Environmental Protection Cabinet. The total cost to do the job was not available.