The Paducah Sun

October 20, 1999

DOE report to call for swift changes

By Bill Bartleman
Copyright 1999, The Paducah Sun

The final report of the first phase of an investigation into conditions at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant is expected to recommend 14 immediate corrective actions to ensure plant safety and speed cleanup activities.

The report by a 23-member U.S. Department of Energy team will be released today in Washington.

In anticipation of the report, Bechtel Jacobs Co., the private contractor overseeing waste management and cleanup at the plant, will conduct an independent review of its radiation protection program and will assign an interim senior manager to help run its Paducah operations.

J.F. Nemec, president of Bechtel Jacobs, outlined the plans in a memorandum distributed to managers Tuesday. The Sun obtained a copy of the memo, prepared after top Bechtel Jacobs officials reviewed a draft of the DOE report.

DOE officials describe the final report as an expansion of last month's preliminary report that concluded there was no imminent danger to workers or the community, but found deficiencies in the oversight of radiation protection programs and in monitoring of contamination. Questions were also raised about cleanup priorities, particularly as they related to abandoned buildings containing high levels of radioactive waste.

Bechtel Jacobs apparently helped prepare the list of corrective actions. In his memorandum, Nemec said: "Our Paducah project team has developed 14 near-term actions in response to issues listed in the draft report. This will give us a head start in responding once we receive the final report."

Corrective actions are expected to include changes in cleanup priorities, improvements in radiation protection programs, and improved monitoring of contamination inside and outside the plant.

Specific recommendations were not included in the memo but will be distributed to Bechtel Jacobs workers today.

Nemec listed management changes that he said would improve operations. He said Paul Clay, deputy general manager of Bechtel Jacobs, is being assigned as interim senior manager of the Paducah operation.

"Paul will be responsible for oversight of the current site management team to assist them in implementing corrective actions ... and in performing additional appraisals of the overall Paducah project operations," Nemec said.

He said Clay was appointed to provide oversight management because the existing Paducah staff, led by Jimmy Massey, has been overworked as a result of investigations and congressional inquiries prompted by allegations that contamination at the plant is much worse than had been indicated in previous reports.

The allegations, contained in a worker lawsuit filed in June, do not focus directly on Bechtel Jacobs or the United States Enrichment Corp., operator of the plant. Instead, the suit claims that former plant operators understated environmental problems in an effort to earn higher operating fees that were based on performance.

In another management change, Nemec said Cathy Hickey will lead a review of procedures and operations at not only the Paducah plant, but also at DOE facilities in Portsmouth, Ohio, and Oak Ridge, Tenn. She is a career Bechtel project manger with a background in health physics. Nemec said she "will bring a fresh perspective" to cleanup operations.

Also, Nemec said a team of internationally recognized experts in health physics and radiological control will conduct an independent review of radiation protection programs at Paducah, Portsmouth and Oak Ridge. Dr. Mel Carter, a former professor at Georgia Tech, will lead the review and it will be completed by Nov. 30.

Concerns about some health physics and radiological programs resulted in Energy Secretary Bill Richardson ordering a one-day "stand-down" at the plant in which all normal cleanup operations were stopped on Sept. 9.

Richardson said the purpose was to direct attention to weaknesses identified by the investigative team that included operating controls and the posting of hazards. It also gave workers an opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns.

Today's final report is expected to make recommendations on:

--The need to place more attention on reducing potential radiation exposure for workers.

--The need to meet with Kentucky environmental officials to discuss revision of the cleanup agreement and make changes to speed the cleanup schedules.

--Upgrading the level of DOE and Bechtel Jacobs oversight of environmental, safety and health programs and policies.

--Improving the monitoring of groundwater plumes that are headed toward the Ohio River.

--Expanding worker training programs.

--Increasing DOE's staff in Paducah by at least two workers to increase surveillance of operations and safety practices.