February 15, 2000
Colleague doubts DOE site danger
By Bill Bartleman
The radiation safety manager at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant said he has no immediate concerns about the safety of workers or about any possible risk of a nuclear accident caused by classified materials that may be stored at the plant.
The manager, Orville Cypret, said he was shocked when he learned that a colleague filed a whistle-blower disclosure statement with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other agencies last week raising new concerns about possible radiation hazards.
Raymond Carroll, a senior manager of health and safety programs, filed the statement, based on a conversation he had last month with Cypret.
Cypret talked to Carroll and others about potential new safety concerns after meeting with a U.S. Department of Justice investigator and the U.S. Department of Energy's Paducah site manager. Cypret said Carroll's statement is not an accurate reflection of the concerns expressed at the meeting. He said some items were embellished.
At issue were comments made to Cypret indicating that up to 1,600 tons of contaminated nuclear weapons material may be stored at the plant, and that tritium may once have been in the plant.
Cypret's job is to ensure that workers for USEC Inc., which runs the nuclear fuel production facilities, are tested for exposure to radioactive materials and chemicals known to be present inside the plant. "If there are radioactive materials here that pose a risk of worker exposure, we need to know about it so we can test for it," Cypret said.
He said not testing would create a health risk for workers and could be a violation of safety regulations enforced by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Cypret said all the information he received last month was "innuendo and ambiguous, but enough that I got worried about whether workers were working in a safe environment. I needed to run it by others and get their views of whether there was a risk." He added he talked to Carroll because Carroll is involved in health and safety issues.
"I asked Ray if he thought there was anything we needed to do immediately," Cypret said. "We talked for a long time and concluded there was not anything more we needed to do. We had done an extensive site characterization (study of contamination), and if there had been anything else radioactive, we would have found it."
There had been reports that weapons material may be buried in the plant, Cypret said. However, the extent and exact type of material have never been confirmed because it is classified information deemed related to national security.
Cypret said he consulted with others at the plant, including Security Manager Pat Jenny, who also concluded there was no danger requiring immediate action.
Cypret said the disclosure statement filed by Carroll makes the situation seem more serious. Carroll said that Joe Egan, a Washington lawyer, helped prepare and file the statement. Egan filed a lawsuit last year on behalf of several workers claiming that former operators had falsified records related to the extent of environmental problems at the plant.
Cypret said he learned the disclosure statement was filed when Carroll contacted him on Thursday and advised him to read a Washington Post news story on the Internet. Cypret said he didn't know Carroll was going to file the disclosure statement.
"I was beyond shock when I found out what he had done," Cypret said. "I thought it was the wrong approach and would be counterproductive. It was my decision to work within the system to resolve these issues and concerns. If at any point I felt the system wasn't working, I could have then gone the same route as Ray."
In retrospect, Cypret said he suspected that Carroll had planned to take some action regarding the information they had discussed.
"After we met (in January) ... Ray came to my house and had a two-page document that was a summary of our meeting," Cypret said. "He wanted to make sure it was accurate ... There were one or two issues I suggested he change. I asked him three times what he was going to do with it, and he told me I didn't really want to know."
Carroll said it was that document that Egan used to prepare the final draft of the disclosure statement. Egan, Carroll and Cypret said they don't know who leaked the document to the news media. Carroll said some reporters had it before it was officially filed.
Cypret said some of the wording was changed to embellish some issues and make them sound more serious. In an interview Saturday, Carroll acknowledged that some wording in the statement was different from the two-page summary he prepared.
One of the issues involved comments from Jenny. As the plant security director, Jenny was quoted in the disclosure statement as telling Cypret that, in regard to releasing information about contaminated materials, "a decision had apparently been made that national security would take precedence over personnel radiological safety."
The two-page summary had a different version of Jenny's comments. It said Jenny had only "indicated to Mr. Cypret that the likely thought process would be that national security would take precedence over personal safety."
A source familiar with security matters who did not want to be identified said Jenny told other workers at the plant Monday that her comment was in the context that national security was of prime concern when some of those materials were brought into the plant during the Cold War of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. She denied saying that national security was more important than the safety of workers.
Jenny was unavailable for comment Monday.
Most of the facts in the document were prepared by Carroll, Egan said, adding that he saw no significant differences between the five-page disclosure statement and the two-page memo that Cypret had reviewed.
Egan said he prepared an introduction that gave some biographical information about Carroll. He said he also changed some of the wording in Carroll's statement to make it more readable.
Egan said he wants to hear from Cypret or anyone who has information related to Carroll's statement.
"If someone has a quibble with the sum and substance of what he is saying, I would be interested to know what it is," Egan said by phone from Washington. "The statement is Ray's, and he stands behind it.
"The prime objective of filing the statement was to try to get the issue on the table, and I think Ray did that."
Egan said filing the disclosure statement was proper because it should ensure that it is dealt with in a serious manner at the highest levels of government.
Cypret said he was told by top DOE officials that to obtain accurate information about classified material buried at the plant, he would have to become a member of a team of high-security-level officials investigating historical information about classified operations at the plant.
That team involves officials with the U.S. Departments of Energy, Justice and Defense.
Cypret said he is having his clearance upgraded to be a part of that team, if USEC decides that it wants to get involved in that way.