The Paducah Sun

October 28, 1999

Bill would increase cleanup funds, Whitfield says

By Joe Walker
Sun Business Editor

First District U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield is sponsoring a bill to provide what he described as better oversight and more money to clean up the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant while better protecting workers who may face layoffs.

Introduced Wednesday by Whitfield and U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, the legislation would:

--Provide millions of additional dollars annually for cleanup at Paducah and its sister plant near Portsmouth, Ohio. The process involves sending money directly to the plants by removing it from the cumbersome federal appropriations process.

--Remove the plants from the jurisdiction of the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge (Tenn.) Operations office and establish a similar office exclusively for Paducah and Portsmouth by March 30. That move is designed to focus more DOE cleanup attention on the enrichment plants.

--Direct DOE to give plant production workers affected by layoffs or partial plant shutdown the first choice for jobs that become available in cleanup work. That section of the bill also covers continued training, pension and retiree health benefits.

"This legislation represents a strong, two-way effort to increase funding for cleanup of the Paducah and Portsmouth sites to put those funds more toward the actual cleanup and to better protect workers who may face layoffs in the future," Whitfield said. "It means extra money for extra cleanup and extra job security for the local workers."

Surcharges on the sale of enriched uranium produced by the plants and other budget sources have created a decontamination and decommissioning fund of about $1.6 billion. Under legislation privatizing plant operator USEC, the fund is set to expire in 2007.

Of the $1.6 billion, $240 million is allocated this fiscal year for cleaning up DOE's three enrichment plant sites. But Whitfield and other lawmakers have complained that $74 million is split by Paducah and Portsmouth and the rest, $166 million, goes to Oak Ridge, whose enrichment plant is closed.

"When $240 million is appropriated for cleanup at the three enrichment sites and Paducah gets only $37 million, that shows the need for a change," Whitfield said.

Under the Whitfield-Strickland bill, money would be automatically sent to the plants based on their enriched uranium production levels, rather than being tied up in the federal budgetary process.

He said congressional hearings on contamination at the Paducah plant suggest that because the money is allocated from the Oak Ridge Operations office, Paducah is slighted.

"The hearings we have held clearly show that Oak Ridge managers don't treat Paducah fairly," Whitfield said. He said a Paducah-Portsmouth operations office would focus more money and managerial attention on those plants.

The bill calls for a line-item appropriation to pay for the new operations office.

DOE officials have said a Paducah-Portsmouth operations office would be even more expensive by creating facilities and staff apart from Oak Ridge. Instead, they have pledged more time and money to the Paducah cleanup effort.

Earlier this fall, DOE assigned Dale Jackson as new site manager at Paducah and added two DOE support personnel.