The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Thursday, July 13, 2000
Paducah, Kentucky

Problem found, cleanup continues

By Bill Bartleman
Workers prepare to move a bale of crushed drums at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant during a June demonstration.

The troubled baler being used to clean up 85,000 contaminated drums from "drum mountain" at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant worked perfectly Wednesday.

"It put out 22 bales in 15 minutes," said Greg Cook, spokesman for Bechtel Jacobs Co., the contractor hired by the U.S. Department of Energy to do the work. By the end of the day, it produced about 60 bales, three times the number produced over the past three weeks.

"The engineers think they've found the problem," Cook said. "But we want to keep running it for a couple of days to make sure they are right." He said the problem will be disclosed when workers confirm it has been fixed.

The cleanup plan, developed after several months of study, involves dumping the drums onto a conveyor belt that carries them to a shredder and into a baler. The bales are then placed in special containers so they can be shipped to a hazardous waste burial site in Utah.

Cook said crush-and-bale cleanup work was being done Wednesday in "short spurts" because of the heat. He said workers are wearing protective clothing and respirators, which require frequent breaks in hot weather.

The drums were once used to store depleted uranium tetrafluoride, or UF4. Officials believe they have been a major source of groundwater contamination.

Cook said the fact that the shredder was working Wednesday won't stop engineers from preparing a contingency plan in case it stops working again. He said the plan should be ready by Friday.

"It has been frustrating," Cook said. "Everyone is surprised we're having a baler problem. When we started, they thought there might be problems with the shredder, but we haven't had a problem with that."

The removal of drum mountain, one of the most visible signs of pollution at the 47-year-old plant where uranium is enriched into nuclear fuel, is costing $7 million. Department of Energy officials have promised the work would be completed by the end of the year.