The Paducah Sun

December 22, 1999

Comment period opens on removal of drum pile

By Joe Walker
Sun Business Editor

The U.S. Department of Energy's pledged 2000 cleanup of a contaminated pile of scrap called "drum mountain" at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant has moved a step closer.

On Tuesday, DOE opened a 30-day public comment period on a plan to remove the pile and place the scrap in drums for shipment in 2001 to an approved disposal facility. Comments will be received through Jan. 20.

The draft plan was submitted for regulatory review in early November and conditionally approved by the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection. State recommendations were built into the version now out for public comment.

Drum mountain is a 6,500-ton heap of empty, crushed drums once containing a mildly radioactive material called "greensalt" that was used decades ago to make uranium hexafluoride, which the plant enriches for use in nuclear fuel. Although the site was scheduled for cleanup, it came under intense scrutiny earlier this year after two federal lawsuits were filed alleging the plant poisoned workers and the public.

DOE launched an investigation into current and past safety practices and promised to clean up drum mountain next year. That decision, combined with a prior acceleration of the scrap removal, means that drum mountain will be excavated more than two years ahead of schedule, said DOE spokesman John Sheppard.

"The primary commitment is to have the material off the ground, if you will, and in disposal containers," Sheppard said. "I'm confident that not all of the material will be shipped off-site by that time frame (2000), but at least it will be off the ground, in suitable containers and prepared for shipment for ultimate disposal."

Pending public approval, Bechtel Jacobs, DOE's lead contractor, expects to have a removal firm hired by March, working by May and completing the packing of scrap by October. Sheppard expects shipment and disposal elsewhere to be completed by April 2001.

The anticipated regulatory and public approval of the plan is faster than many other cleanup plans undertaken by the plant. Sheppard said the approach for drum mountain is to plan for approved removal and disposal processes while trying to accommodate regulatory and public comments.

"There may well be a comment that expresses concerns about transportation issues" for example, he said. "What we'll do is prepare it to be fully compliant with Department of Transportation regulations and characterized in advance to meet waste acceptance criteria of whatever disposal site it is destined for."

Drum mountain, at the northwest corner of the fenced area of the plant, is a potential source of groundwater and surface water contamination. Despite its size, it accounts for only about 10 percent of the scrap metal at the plant.

The pile rests atop an old burial area that also is believed to be contaminated. A plan to clean up the burial ground will be prepared next year.

The draft plan is at the DOE Environmental Information Center in the West Kentucky Technology Park on U.S. 60 at Kevil, and at the Paducah Public Library. Comments should be addressed to Myrna Redfield, U.S. Department of Energy, Paducah Site Office, Box 1410, Paducah, KY 42001. Her phone number is 441-6801.

Copies may be requested by calling Bechtel Jacobs at 441-5023.