The Paducah Sun

November 13, 1999

Bunning: Cleanup aid won't be lost

By Bill Bartleman
The Paducah Sun

Attention from Congress for cleaning up the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant won't diminish with time, U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning said after visiting the plant Friday.

"Over the next 10 years, we are going to allocate money for cleanup of the Paducah plant as a line item in the budget, rather than having it go through DOE's office in Tennessee and let them decide how the money is going to be used," Bunning said.

"We will see that the money goes for cleanup and not maintenance of the waste. We'll make sure we will actually see results ... which we haven't seen so far."

Bunning promised that the interest in the plant would not be lost when national attention fades.

Bunning said his tour of the plant Friday was more extensive than previous visits.

He went inside buildings that have materials contaminated with highly radioactive material; he saw a scrap yard that includes thousands of tons of old equipment; he saw "drum mountain," which includes thousands of crushed drums that are contaminated with uranium dust; and he drove through a storage yard where more than 38,000 cylinders of uranium waste is stored.

"It was a mess," he said several times in describing what he saw.

Bunning said he is curious as to how DOE has spent $400 million at the plant since 1988 and can still have so much waste. He said that is one of several reasons he's asked the General Accounting Office to conduct a special investigation of the activities and expenses.

The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.

While Bunning says he is "fairly confident" that the United States Enrichment Corp. is now operating the plant safely, he doesn't want to take anything for granted because of concerns over past practices.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 1997 has regulated the plant.

"NRC is tough to deal with, and they have given a sound report on the current safety and soundness of the plant," Bunning said. "But I am not confident enough yet in NRC ... because this is my first dealing with them. That is why I am seeking another source and an independent review by GAO."

Bunning said experiences with DOE make him skeptical. Until NRC took over regulating the plant, DOE was both the owner and regulator, "which isn't a very good way of doing things. It is the fox guarding the hen house."

"The people of this area have trusted the federal government and DOE over the years because of the amount of employment at the plant and the dollar value of the payroll," Bunning said.

"But DOE, in my opinion, did not have a clue as to what was going on regarding safety. They just produced the material (enriched uranium) and did anything they wanted to do. I have been misinformed by DOE, and the people have been misinformed."

Concerns about contamination at the plant and past safety practices have gained nationwide attention because of recent lawsuits filed against former operators. The suits allege that workers were exposed to radioactive material and that past safety practices were not sufficient to protect the health and safety of workers and nearby property owners.

Bunning said Congress will work to ensure that DOE meets its schedule to have the plant cleaned up by 2010. He said it could cost more than $100 million a year to meet that schedule.

Also, Bunning said Bechtel Jacobs, contracted to do the cleanup at the plant, will be investigated as part of the GAO probe. He expressed concern that the company might not have the expertise to do the cleanup work in an efficient and orderly manner.

Bechtel Jacobs was the target of criticism in a recent DOE review of safety procedures and practices at the plant.

Asked if Bechtel Jacobs should remain as the cleanup contractor, Bunning said, "I think we'll have a better idea of that after GAO finishes with its report."