The Paducah Sun

January 14, 2000

Trenching at plant to be delayed after storage facility fire

Staff report

A small fire in a storage facility at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant will briefly delay the U.S. Department of Justice's excavation of trenches north of the plant.

The fire, discovered at 6 a.m. Thursday in Building C-755-A, sent smoke that damaged sample bottles scheduled for use in the excavation, which will resume once the bottles are replaced. Five trenches are being dug around the plant so that soil samples can be taken and tested for the presence of radioactive and chemical contamination in the ground, as alleged in a lawsuit filed by three plant employees.

''Getting new sample bottles is going to create a small delay,'' said Greg Cook, a spokesman for Bechtel Jacobs Co. LLC, which handles the government's environmental cleanup there.

No one was in the building when the fire broke out. The United States Enrichment Corporation site fire department extinguished the fire.

"It wasn't a big fire,'' said Steven Wyatt, a spokesman in Oak Ridge, Tenn., for the Energy Department, which owns the 47-year-old plant. ''No one was hurt. No samples were lost. But it does impact the trenching.''

He said the cause was under investigation.

The fire burned a pallet of new plastic box liners and heat-warped some plastic covers on fluorescent lighting fixtures. Some plastic splash curtains were also melted, and some concrete pitting occurred. Smoke blackened most of the building's contents.

Building C-755-A, originally designed as a decontamination pad but now used as a storage facility, is located outside the plant security fence on the east side of the complex, about a mile from the trenches. The building is a permanent metal structure, similar to a two-car garage, and is used for temporary storage of various supplies and equipment.

Materials inside included a rented trailer that contained the empty sample bottles. The box liners are used to line low-level radioactive waste containers, such as those used in support of the Justice Department's excavation. To date, only two boxes have been needed for materials removed during the excavation, and loss of the box liners is not expected to cause additional delay.

A freezer containing ecological samples from routine site environmental monitoring, not related to the excavation, is also in the building. The ecological samples, including several raccoon carcasses, appeared to be unharmed, officials said.

The building also houses one large polyethylene tank of potentially contaminated water. The tank was not breached and swipe samples from the floor and other surfaces in the building were analyzed and showed no release of radioactive material.

Cook said such testing after a fire is routine at the plant, which enriches uranium for use in nuclear reactors.

Justice Department officials previously said the excavation would take two or three weeks. They said test results should be complete by May.