The storage areas are illegal, have never been analyzed and could result in fines, the site manager says.
By Joe Walker firstname.lastname@example.org
Controversial waste storage areas at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant contain hazardous materials, Department of Energy Site Manager Don Seaborg said Wednesday.
"There could be substantial penalties and fines (against the plant)," he said. "I don't know what's going to happen."
Seaborg said he wrote state and federal environmental protection officials Wednesday to inform them that the waste has hazardous components. Although he was uncertain how much of the waste is hazardous, Seaborg said 13 binders, each about 3 inches thick, were sent to regulatory agencies documenting the materials.
Much of the waste has been stored at the plant for many years without being analyzed. Having hazardous waste that is uncharacterized and improperly stored is a violation of environmental laws, Seaborg said.
The waste is composed of about 1 million cubic feet of material in 148 areas, including barrels and scrap piles in various parts of the plant. DOE says 73 of those pose slight risks of a "nuclear criticality," or uncontrolled reaction.
The storage areas, controlled by DOE, were targeted by the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative and auditing arm, in a report released earlier this month. The report said DOE may have underestimated the cost of plant cleanup by billions of dollars, partly because the storage areas are not budgeted for cleanup.
A criticality is a threat to worker safety because it can result in "a burst of radiation that generally lasts several hours; it is, however, a localized event that would not result in an explosion or release of radioactivity to the atmosphere," the report says.
DOE is paying plant operator USEC Inc. about $4.8 million to do a safety review by July on the 10 areas that have the highest criticality risk. But the agreement does not address the needs for a review of the 63 other sites, the GAO report says, and the work schedule does not include reviewing the rest of the areas.
Another troublesome problem for the plant is that youths are ignoring radiation control boundaries by loitering in Little Bayou Creek at Ogden Landing Road, which runs behind the facility. Earlier this month, plant health physicist Ron Fowler caught teen-agers drinking beer in the creek, having bypassed radiation control chains and signs, Seaborg said.
Fowler is one of three plant employees who filed a false-claims lawsuit against former plant contractor Lockheed Martin a year ago. An ensuing DOE investigation found that areas of contamination around the plant were not properly posted and segregated, resulting in the erection of thousands of feet of radiation control chains and signs.
Ingesting contaminated sediment is the main risk in the creek, Seaborg said.
"There's an environmental monitoring station there, too, with a fence around it, but it's not stopping anyone," he said. "We have to do a better job telling the public to avoid those areas."
Seaborg said part of the solution may be going door-to-door around the plant. He said he has also asked the plant's citizens' advisory board for recommendations.
Copyright 2000, The Paducah Sun