October 16, 1999
DOE: Funds not being wasted
By Bill Bartleman
Money intended for use in cleaning up contamination at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant is not being wasted on unnecessary paperwork to meet bureaucratic environmental regulations, a top U.S. Department of Energy official said Friday.
U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield have expressed concern over reports that up to 89 percent of the $400 million spent at the plant over the past 10 years has gone to waste management and to meet regulations rather than actual cleanup.
Dr. Carolyn Huntoon, DOE assistant secretary for environmental management, said the money isn't being wasted because it is financing preliminary analysis necessary before actual cleanup can begin.
"It is in the eye of the beholder about money going for other things," she said during her first visit to the plant since being named to the top-level position three months ago. "When people say the money hasn't been going for cleanup, they are not being exactly accurate."
Huntoon said she investigated how the money has been spent and found that most of it has gone for necessary pre-cleanup activities and planning. The preliminary analysis and planning will save time and money later, she said.
"Some people call it non-cleanup, and some people call it getting their ducks in a row and getting their documentation done - and the analysis done," she said.
"A lot of the front-end work has to be done - which you might call paperwork - putting processes in place, putting in wells so we could take samples, and getting data collected to locate where the plumes are located. They are things that don't necessarily mean cleanup but they are part of the cleanup."
Huntoon said DOE is working with state regulators to assess cleanup priorities, schedules and funding "to make sure we are doing the work as effectively, efficiently and as safely as we can."
New cleanup priorities are expected to be revealed next week when DOE releases the final report of the Phase 1 investigation of the plant. It involves cleanup management since 1990 and current safety conditions.
The preliminary report issued last month reported instances of lapses in safety programs, yet said there was no imminent danger to workers or the community.
Improvements were made when all cleanup-related activities were stopped for one day so that safety procedures could be reviewed and corrected.
"The final report ... will point out more meaningful things that need to be done in the long term and immediately," Huntoon said. One of the changes in priority she cited will be to clean up and secure a couple of contaminated buildings that no longer are used in the production of nuclear fuel.
The preliminary report said those buildings are in disrepair and are inhabited by animals that could potentially spread contamination to other areas of the plant. The current timetable calls for those buildings to be decontaminated in about 10 years.
Huntoon said she was returning to Washington with a much better understanding of the magnitude of the environmental problems at the plant, which has been enriching uranium since 1952.
"Until you come down here and see the scrap yards and drum mountain and talk to the people, it is very difficult to appreciate the challenge we have," she said. "Unfortunately, the effects of decades of the Cold War are here ... it can't be cleaned up overnight. It is going to take time."
The timetable is to complete major cleanup work by 2010 at a cost of $1 billion. However, DOE officials admit that current funding levels are not sufficient to meet that schedule. About $65 million will be spent in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, and officials have said at least $100 million is needed each year in order for work to be completed by 2010.