The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Friday, January 19, 2001 Paducah, Kentucky

DOE: Paducah plant radiation risk fell in 1999

By Angie Kinsey akinsey@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

The radiation risk for neighbors of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant fell from 1998 to 1999, and tests on deer and rabbits found no signs of radioactive contamination, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's latest environmental report.

The report for 1999 concludes that the most exposed plant neighbor would receive .69 millirem of the annual dose limit of 100 millirem set by DOE as a safe limit for human exposure. In 1998, maximum exposure rate was 2.27 millirems.

DOE said the average person in the United States receives about 200 millirems annually.

The .69 dose was calculated based on a hypothetical person who lives constantly at home just over a mile from the plant, gets 70 percent of his food from the immediate area and extensively uses the wildlife area surrounding the plant.

"This is done as a conservative method," said Mitch Hicks, a health physicist for DOE. "They might kill deer on their property and use the food source as meat, and participate in recreational activities like swimming in Little Bayou Creek or picnic out on the grounds."

The finding was one of several areas of reduced environmental contamination found during the 1999 study.

"We took more than 800 samples of various media, including groundwater, soil and air," said Don Seaborg, DOE site manager in Paducah. "We also took biological samples from deer and rabbit. We're very pleased with it."

The report found that metal and chemical levels in deer and rabbit samplings taken in and around the plant remained well below U.S. Food and Drug Administration limits for human consumption. The report said the levels were similar to those found in deer and rabbits far away from the plant.

In addition, the report said the radioactive substance technetium-99 has still not shown up in Ohio River samples. "The plumes indicate tech-99 is close to the river, but samples in the river do not show tech-99 contamination at this point," said Craig Jones, environmental engineer for Bechtel Jacobs. "Essentially there is no significant risk from what we've found in the past."

DOE environmental engineer David Tidwell said residents with groundwater contaminated by technetium-99 have been supplied with city water. "We've taken away the risk to the public on groundwater contamination," Tidwell said. "We spend $70,000 a year to provide city water to those residents."

Although overall environmental contamination continued to decline, there were some instances where measured contaminants increased during 1999. DOE said the increases do not reflect a meaningful increased risk to the public.

The report also said:

--There were two Notices of Violation issued to DOE during 1999 by the Kentucky Division of Waste Management. One involved unapproved work in a landfill without state approval, and the other involved a failed toxicity test of water at one plant outfall. No fines were levied.

--There were five instances in which DOE exceeded limits in its water discharge permit. Two related to the failed toxicity test, while the other three involved runoff of zinc from newly painted cylinders containing depleted uranium hexafluoride.

The report also includes 50 pages of data gathered from soil and water samples taken as part of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The investigation is in regard to lawsuits claiming that previous plant operators filed false reports regarding pollution in and around the plant in an effort to earn millions of dollars in operating bonuses from DOE.

However, there is no explanation regarding the meaning of the test results. DOE officials said details are not being released because of the pending lawsuits. The Department of Justice is continuing to investigate in an effort to determine if the federal government should join the suit as a plaintiff.

The 1999 environmental report is available for reading at DOE's Environmental Information Center in the West Kentucky Technology Park in Kevil, and at the Paducah-McCracken County Library. Copies of the report can be obtained by calling 462-2550.

Seaborg said the 2000 report should be out in September.

Sun reporter Bill Bartleman contributed to this report.