By Bill Bartleman email@example.com
Removal of the 35-foot-high scrap pile known as "drum mountain" at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant is seriously behind schedule.
Only 8 percent of the estimated 85,000 rusty, contaminated drums have been shredded and baled. Bechtel Jacobs Co. officials had projected that by now, more than half of the drums would be ready for shipment to a hazardous-waste landfill in Utah.
"The issue is not that we are behind schedule but whether the work can be completed by the end of the year," Bechtel Jacobs spokesman Greg Cook said. He said efforts are being made to meet the schedule.
The company has a $7 million contract with the U.S. Department of Energy to remove the drums. It has subcontracted the work to USEC Inc., the company that produces enriched uranium at the plant.
DOE spokesman Walter Perry said he receives daily reports on the progress of the cleanup of drum mountain.
The shredding and baling was expected to take 49 working days, and 2.8 shipping containers were to be filled each day. Perry said the project was in its 23rd day Wednesday, and only 8.8 of 109 containers had been filled. Under the schedule, 64 containers should be filled and ready for shipment.
"We have full confidence that Bechtel Jacobs and the subcontractor will get the job done on time," Perry said.
Cook said USEC workers are analyzing problems that have plagued the cleanup and are developing a plan to meet DOE's schedule.
Options include eliminating the baling process and putting the shredded drums into the containers, or putting the drums into the containers without shredding, crushing or baling. Either option would increase costs because it would require additional containers to haul the material out of Paducah.
Drum mountain is a highly visible part of an old storage yard in the northwestern area of the plant that contains an estimated 65,000 tons of scrap material, much of it believed to be contaminated with low levels of depleted uranium tetrafluoride, or UF4. Officials believe the drums are a source of groundwater contamination.
Members of Congress have been critical of DOE for spending more than $400 million on cleanup with very little visible progress. Earlier this year, top DOE officials visited Paducah and promised drum mountain would be removed by the end of the year. They made similar commitments in congressional hearings.
The latest problem is a conveyor belt that moves the crushed drums from a hopper to the shredder. Debris apparently became caught behind the conveyor, causing damage to a roller, Cook said. It was being repaired Thursday.
The problem delayed a scheduled inspection Wednesday by the Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet, which earlier this month issued a violation notice after observing dust particles rising from the shredder. State officials said it violated clean-air regulations.
A spokesman for the state said inspectors, during a visit Thursday, observed that changes had been made in the equipment that should eliminate the air emissions violation. The changes included improving the "misting" procedure to hold down the dust. The inspectors said they wouldn't know if the violation had been corrected until they see the equipment operate.
Cook would not predict a resumption date for the cleanup, saying, "We haven't gotten a report from our subcontractor (USEC) on that."