The much-touted crush-and-bale method of removing the plant's drums failed on its first day and has not worked since.
By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
Work to reduce "drum mountain" at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant hasn't gone on since the first day, and now Bechtel Jacobs Co. officials are concluding the company's crush-and-bale plan might not work.
Work to remove the contaminated drums began with great fanfare on June 23 as the U.S. Department of Energy and Bechtel Jacobs, its contractor, invited reporters to watch a front-end loader scoop the first drums from the 35-foot high pile and dump them onto a conveyor belt.
The work stopped after only a few scoops. Officials reported minor problems that would be quickly corrected. But work still has not resumed. Officials are studying the problem and hope to have a solution by the end of the week.
The $7 million plan was for the conveyor to carry the 85,000 rusted drums to a crusher and move them into a baler. The bales were then to be placed in special containers so they could be shipped to a hazard waste burial site in Utah.
The baler stopped working after about 30 minutes. At the time, Bechtel Jacobs officials described the problem as a normal start-up glitch.
They first reported that scrap material blocked a baler door from closing which caused the equipment to shut down. Then they reported that the crusher and the baler were operating at different speeds and needed to be synchronized.
After almost three weeks, however, they have concluded that maybe the plan it devised may not work. They had to go back to revise the plan to remove the drums, which cover an area 120 feet by 200 feet.
"We are expected to have a revised plan and a solution to the baler problem by the end of the week," said Greg Cook, spokesman for Bechtel Jacobs. One option would involve doing away with the baler and finding a new way of packaging the waste. Another would involve finding a solution to the problems with coordinating the crusher with the baler.
Cook said major considerations in solving the problem will be increased costs and maintaining the timetable to have the drums moved from Paducah by the end of the year. The removal work has already been delayed for six weeks.
Drum mountain is one of the most visible signs of pollution at the plant, where uranium has been enriched into nuclear fuel since 1952. U.S. Department of Energy officials have promised in congressional hearings that the drums would be removed by the end of the year as a demonstration of their commitment to meet a 10-year deadline for removing all contamination from the site in western McCracken County.
The drums were once used to store depleted uranium tetrafluoride, or UF4. Officials believe the drums are a major source of groundwater contamination.
Copyright 2000, The Paducah Sun