The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Thursday, May 11, 2000
Paducah, Kentucky

Probe sought in USEC security

By Joe Walker jwalker@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

The head of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant guards union wants the Department of Justice to investigate his claim that a 1993 secret plant security plan which reportedly does not reflect new revelations about nuclear weapons work is fraudulent.

John Driskill, president of United Plant Guard Workers of America Local 111, seeks an injunction through the Justice Department against cutting guards' jobs until plant security can be independently assessed. USEC Inc., which runs the plant, plans to eliminate four security guard positions starting July 14 as part of 271 job reductions, he said.

Driskill said he faxed a letter Wednesday to Bill Campbell, head of a Justice Department investigation at the plant, seeking the injunction in federal court. He said he had previously expressed his concerns to Campbell, an assistant U.S. attorney in Louisville.

"I've asked him to intercede in these layoffs because of the public safety risk," Driskill said. "USEC and the Department of Energy both said the threat assessment done in 1993 is wrong. He (Campbell) knows it is wrong, and I think it will prove to be fraudulent."

Because the document is classified, Driskill would not elaborate. But USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said the company and DOE have started work to revise the threat assessment to reflect new information uncovered by the department about nuclear weapons parts in DOE-controlled waste areas at the plant.

"That's what this is about," she said.

Attempts to reach Campbell Wednesday afternoon were unsuccessful. He did not return telephone messages left through his Louisville office. The Department of Justice probe will determine if the government should join a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging past plant contractor Lockheed Martin profited by covertly poisoning workers and the public.

The assessment, a classified document written in November 1993, analyzes various security threats to the plant. Driskill said USEC management ignored recommendations from its own experts and a second, independent team of experts that the plan was inadequate.

"The assessment, prepared for USEC and DOE by Lockheed Martin Utility Services, was approved by the same managers who now run the plant under USEC Inc. management," the letter states. "The DOE and USEC acknowledge this assessment is wrong and must be revised, as is the case for a number of other plans and certificates including possibly the license issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."

Lockheed Martin ran the plant for USEC until a year ago, when USEC assumed management and operation of uranium enrichment.

Driskill's letter describes the assessment as "the foundation" of plant security. "It would seem reasonable that any further reductions in the security force be postponed in light of the serious and imminent risk to public safety and national security," the letter says.

Although he would not elaborate on the risk, Driskill said two plant employees complained about the plan's shortcomings and were disciplined. The author of the plan was moved to another job, he said, adding that the matter is part of the NRC's next enforcement conference with USEC.

NRC spokeswoman Pam Alloway-Mueller said the conference, rescheduled Wednesday from May 17 to June 26, is confidential because it deals with personnel matters. However, USEC previously said the conference related to an NRC notice of violation against the company for disciplining 11 employees because of training-related issues. No mention was made of the threat assessment.

The assessment should have been approved by the Energy Department's Office of Safeguards and Security in Washington, but has no approval signature from that office, Driskill said. DOE spokesman Walter Perry said that after a limited search, the department had been unable to find the assessment, but would continue looking into Driskill's allegations.

"That thing is full of false statements and fraudulent claims," Driskill said. "I think it's criminal because it has absolutely put public safety at great risk and they (managers) have ignored safety recommendations from their own experts and threatened people's careers."

Apart from the Department of Justice investigation, DOE has an ongoing probe into nuclear weapons work at the plant from the 1950s to the 1980s. In February, the Sun obtained a DOE employee memo revealing new evidence that nuclear weapons parts were brought into the plant in the past to retrieve previous metals and to bury.

Last week, DOE acknowledged Driskill's claims that 17 complete nuclear bomb casings and other partial casings had been found above ground in an unclassified storage area north of the plant.