The Paducah plant could face penalties regarding 148 material storage areas containing hazardous substances.
By Joe Walker firstname.lastname@example.org
The Department of Energy is working with state and federal environmental regulators on a plan to characterize a million cubic feet of waste at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
Last week, DOE Site Manager Don Seaborg said a determination that some of the 148 material storage areas contain hazardous waste could lead to substantial penalties. Seaborg, who provided details about the findings to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet, said he was unsure of the extent of the problem.
DOE has proposed that an enforceable agreement be negotiated with regulators for a schedule to determine exactly what is in the areas and how to manage them. They include drums of waste, scrap piles and other sites in buildings and on grounds throughout the plant.
Intended to store excess equipment and supplies, the areas were established in 1993 as DOE began to transfer uranium enrichment operations to USEC Inc. Because of use in enrichment, some of the material is believed to contain radiation, chemicals or both.
The department continues work on 13 high-priority areas that a DOE investigative team said last year poses a risk of an uncontrolled nuclear reaction called a criticality. DOE officials say they are 75 percent finished with that work and should complete the project in 45 days. Planning is under way to characterize all the storage areas for hazardous components.
"Our goal is to work with Kentucky and the EPA to ensure that the contents of the (storage areas) are well understood and managed properly," said Leah Dever, manager of DOE operations in Oak Ridge, Tenn., that oversees the Paducah plant.
Controlled by DOE, the storage areas 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 understated the cost of plant cleanup by billions of dollars, partly because the storage areas are not budgeted for cleanup.
Citing the GAO report, U.S. Sens. Jim Bunning and Mitch McConnell criticized the department for not having a plan to characterize all the areas.