The Paducah Sun

February 24, 2000

DOE seeks worker input on weapons

By Bill Bartleman
The Paducah Sun

U.S. Department of Energy officials want to talk to current or former Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant employees who worked in the weapons recovery operations that ended in the mid-1980s.

Acting Paducah Site Manager Dale Jackson said at a DOE-sponsored meeting Wednesday night at the Information Age Park that documenting all of the nuclear weapons activity has been difficult because it was done for the Department of Defense.

"A lot of the work we did on weapons was classified and still is classified," Jackson said. "Documents regarding that work are not here because ... (they left the plant) with the weapons work. We are having a difficult time following the paper trail ... but we are getting those records so we can fully understand the story of what went on here."

DOE disclosed in recent weeks that beryllium and tritium contamination at the plant may have come from some of the secret weapons work. Those two elements are part of triggers used in nuclear weapons that were dismantled at the plant.

Officials have acknowledged that some weapons parts were dismantled and melted down to recover gold and other valuable elements. There also have been recent reports that thousands of tons of weapons parts may be buried in a classified DOE landfill.

Jackson said the records are being gathered as part of an investigation to determine the extent of contamination from the classified weapons work.

"We need your help," he said. "We very much desire to talk to anyone who did weapons work at the plant." He said the interviews are in addition to the effort to recover records about the work.

Anyone with information should contact Jackson by calling the DOE site office at 441-6800.

The weapons study is separate from two other investigations done recently by special DOE investigators from Washington. Those investigations focused on whether plant procedures protected adequately the health and safety of the workers and community.

Wednesday's public meeting was held so DOE officials could answer questions about the Phase II study of contamination. It covers work done from the time the plant opened in 1952 until 1990. The report was released earlier this month and said that workers and nearby residents were exposed to radioactive gas releases and contamination.

A previous report covered contamination from 1990 to present.

Approximately 120 people attended the meeting, and about 10 asked questions, most involving whether former workers or their families, or weather nearby residents, would be compensated for possible health problems caused by contamination from the plant.

DOE officials said they are studying that issue.

Jackson also acknowledged that DOE has a credibility problem that it is attempting to overcome. He said the problem was caused by the fact that until the end of the Cold War, most of the plant's operations were classified. He said officials weren't allowed to make public disclosures about some of the activities and some of the contamination.

"Building public trust in DOE is our biggest objective," Jackson said, "and we have yet to accomplish that objective."