The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Friday, September 29, 2000
Paducah, Kentucky

1 hurdle left on DOE, dam aid
The energy secretary also was told to determine how to prop up the sagging U.S. uranium enrichment program.

By Joe Walker
Congress is on the final leg of approving more than $100 million for environmental and worker health programs at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and $86 million to continue the Kentucky Dam and Olmsted lock and dam projects.

Congress also has directed Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to determine by Dec. 31 how to prop up the sagging U.S. uranium enrichment industry, which threatens to close the Paducah plant and its raw producer, the Honeywell plant at Metropolis, Ill.

The language is part of the massive 2001 Energy and Water Development Appropriation Act that the House of Representatives approved Thursday by a 301-118 vote. Previously approved by the Senate, the bill had been sent to the House-Senate Conference Committee for compromise work. It now returns to the Senate for final action before going to President Clinton.

Supported by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, and Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, the legislation includes this funding for the plant:

--$78 million for environmental cleanup work.

--$33 million shared by Paducah and its sister plant near Portsmouth, Ohio, to maintain nearly 60,000 cylinders of spent uranium hexafluoride and build facilities at each plant to convert the hazardous material into something safer.

--$4.3 million for worker health and safety programs, including testing and monitoring of past and present workers at the plant.

--$1.75 million for an epidemiological study of workers by research specialists from medical schools at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

--$3 million for programs to help displaced plant workers.

"This is a clean sweep. We got all of the funding requested by the president and more," Whitfield said. "We were able to put Paducah on the appropriators' radar screen on both sides of the Capitol. I think this bodes well for our continuing efforts to get a workers' compensation package and, in fact, we have seen positive movement toward that goal in the last 24 hours."

The conference report says Congress is worried about "severe market pressures" that could soon cause the loss of initial parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, including the Honeywell plant, which converts natural uranium into uranium hexafluoride. It directs Richardson to evaluate and make specific proposals on sustaining the domestic enrichment industry. His report is due to Congress by Dec. 31.

Richardson must recommend how to deal with the Portsmouth plant, which will be closed next summer, "and its role in maintaining a secure and sufficient domestic supply of enriched uranium."

The evaluation should also include the prospects for gas centrifuge and laser-based technologies to replace gaseous diffusion, Congress said, and the government's role in that effort.

"The (conference) committee expects to be notified by the department of its need for additional funding or decision to reprogram funding in order to carry out its priorities with regard to domestic enrichment industry," the report said.

DOE and plant operator USEC have begun a one-year, $4 million project to hasten gas centrifuge research. A proprietary report recently done by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said USEC won't be profitable beyond 2005 without drastic measures, yet it doesn't plan to deploy centrifuge until 2009.

Thursday's action also approved these funds for waterways projects in the region:

--$30 million to continue construction of a Kentucky lock replacement that will make barge traffic faster and safer. Whitfield said the action doubles Clinton's request and keeps the project on track for completion by 2010.

--$56 million toward ongoing construction of Olmsted Lock and Dam, which will replace locks 52 and 53 on the Ohio River. The facility will be the largest of its type in Kentucky in terms of tonnage, McConnell said.

--$3 million for bank restoration and erosion control along the lower portion of the river below Barkley Dam and stretching 30 miles through Lyon, Crittenden and Livingston counties to the Ohio River. Whitfield said water fluctuations below the dam have consumed valuable farmland and residential property.

--$400,000 for preliminary engineering and design for rehabilitation of the existing local protection facilities, including the Paducah floodwall. Last year, Whitfield said, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers affirmed his contention that most of the flood protection along the shoreline in the Purchase area is near or beyond its design life.

The conference report also contained language prohibiting use of funds for construction of the Reelfoot Lake Spillway Project. Whitfield claims it will cause additional flooding problems over approximately 20,000 acres of farmland in Fulton County.