October 21, 1999
Congressmen give GOE failing grade
By Bill Bartleman
The failure of the U.S. Department of Energy to oversee a safe and effective cleanup of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant drew strong criticism from three members of Kentucky's congressional delegation.
A 55-page report by a special DOE investigative team was critical of not only its own agency officials, but also Bechtel Jacobs Co., the private contractor hired to handle cleanup of the plant.
"I found the final report alarming," said 1st District U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville. "It is quite obvious ... that DOE was not providing the oversight it should have been, and that the primary contractor has not been doing the job it should have been doing."
Whitfield said he was disappointed that after spending almost $400 million in the past 10 years, major problems continue to exist with identifying types of contamination and with doing actual cleanup.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said he is disappointed in DOE.
"After having read it, I've concluded that if I were grading the DOE's cleanup efforts, I would give them an F," McConnell said. "It is clear by their own admission that the DOE has failed to contain contamination, adequately protect worker health and safety, and make cleanup a priority at the plant."
U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning said his lack of confidence in DOE continues.
"Since the beginning of August, the DOE investigators have identified 148 separate areas throughout the site that contain fissionable materials, yet they still cannot characterize the exact nature of the waste," Bunning said. "This is why I have called for an independent, unbiased investigation to be conducted by the General Accounting Office."
The report was critical of Bechtel Jacobs for weakness in radiation protection management. It also was critical of the company for failing to properly train workers about the hazards of working around radioactive material.
Dale Jackson, acting DOE site manager at the plant, said efforts will be made to evaluate the effectiveness of Bechtel Jacobs' work.
The company already has begun taking steps to respond to the findings, including conducting an independent study of its radiation protection program.
Mark Musolf, a spokesman for Bechtel Jacobs, said the report was tough but fair.
"It found some things that we need to fix, and it found some things that DOE needs to fix, and it found, I think, some things that Congress needs to fix," Musolf said. "Funding is mentioned several times in the report as being a problem in some areas, not being able to do some things at the site. Some additional funding is needed to do the things that need to get done."
Although Whitfield said he was alarmed by the report, he said it confirmed that conditions at the plant do not create any imminent dangers for workers and the public.
Whitfield said the attention placed on the plant should help it get the funding it needs for the cleanup. Also, Whitfield said he is continuing to work on drafting legislation that will compensate plant workers who became ill because of the working environment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.