By Joe Walker email@example.com
Two members of a group designed to ease the impact of job losses at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant will be in Toronto on Monday to assess a firm proposing a project to clean radioactive nickel at the plant and sell it for millions of dollars for limited commercial use.
The Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization is considering hiring CVD Manufacturing, a 3-year-old Canadian firm, to build a nickel decontamination facility at the Paducah plant. The facility would create 26 to 40 jobs and, through the sale of nickel, could generate $8 million to $12 million for PACRO to funnel into other ventures to produce income for displaced gaseous diffusion plant workers, said committee member Henry Hodges.
Hodges mentioned the trip during discussions at Wednesday's monthly PACRO meeting in Mayfield. The PACRO board also approved a $750,000 grant to help build a 50,000-square-foot speculative building on 10 acres in Industrial Park West off Olivet Church Road. Funding will be used by the Paducah-McCracken County Industrial Development Authority for the spec building project, whose total cost is $951,000.
PACRO receives grant money from the Department of Energy in a program that helps find jobs for displaced DOE plant workers by developing industrial parks, promoting small businesses and other methods.
Accompanied by DOE experts, Hodges and PACRO Chairman Ric Ladt will visit CVD's Toronto plant, which converts metals other than nickel into gas. Hodges, director of the Purchase Area Development District, said CVD has done laboratory work decontaminating radioactive nickel, and the Energy Department believes the system could be used at Paducah.
"What we're really trying to do is replace some of the value taken away by downsizing or closing the Paducah plant," Hodges said. "That's our mission."
But the nickel project is highly controversial.
Federal lawsuits allege that the nickel — about 9,700 tons stored in a 25-acre scrap yard within the fenced area of the plant — is highly radioactive and a threat to workers and the public. In July, DOE declared a temporary ban on the sale of potentially contaminated scrap from its facilities nationwide after citizens' groups complained that the metal could wind up in such products as children's dental braces. State environmental regulators also have expressed concerns.
DOE is expected to lift the moratorium late this year or early next year, assuming health and safety issues are resolved.
During the August PACRO meeting, Mark Donham, a member and former chairman of DOE's Paducah citizens' advisory board, said the Energy Department promised the board in writing to use nickel-sales money for environmental cleanup. Sale of the nickel, estimates of whose value range from $40 million to $80 million, would recoup an entire year's cleanup costs.
PACRO Director John Anderson said Wednesday that DOE has been unable to confirm the promise, but PACRO and DOE continue to research Donham's claim. However, DOE has approved each step of the work toward cleansing and selling the nickel, Anderson said.
Hodges said PACRO proposes a "closed-loop" system to sell decontaminated nickel to manufacturers whose products are not in direct contact with consumers. A few of the potential uses are in military aircraft landing gear and some parts of automobiles, he said.
"The experts have convinced me that the decontaminated nickel would be purer than nickel that is mined," Hodges said. "But the closed-loop system would provide an added measure of safety."
CVD Manufacturing, a subsidiary of Chemical Vapour Deposition Systems Inc., has operations in Canada and Germany. The Toronto plant makes industrial molds and other products, and has a research and development branch.
PACRO learned about CVD through ELR Consultants, which has offices in Paducah and Oak Ridge, Tenn. The consulting firm has a $200,000 contract with PACRO to study ways to use the nickel.
Also Wednesday, PACRO approved nearly $93,000 in low-interest loans to help current and former Paducah plant employees start businesses.
The group approved a loan of $67,775 to Carrie Ryan, who took voluntary severance from the downsized plant, to start Carrie's Malt Shoppe and Creamery on South 2nd Street. The restaurant, which will cost $123,700, will employ two full-time workers and 15 to 20 part-time people.
A $25,000 loan was approved for Lauri Bebout, a current plant worker, to start a door-to-door marketing service called Your Door Store. The business will provide advertising services in Paducah and McCracken County and is expected to employ seven people.
So far, PACRO has approved $149,275 in three business start-up loans to current and former plant workers, and has $253,443 remaining in the loan fund. PACRO member Norma Drouin, who handles the loan program through the development district, said only three workers have applied for loans, all of which were approved, although 56 people have inquired about the loan program.