The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Saturday, January 20, 2001
Paducah, Kentucky

Paducah cleanup to cost $82 million
Storage areas were found in violation of Kentucky environmental laws, and some contain nuclear waste.

By Bill Bartleman
Photo provided by U.S. Department of Energy--Work begins soon: This old deteriorating sulfuric acid storage tank is one of 160 contaminated storage areas to be cleaned up at a cost of $82 million.

Work will start next month at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant to clean up 160 material storage areas, some of which contain nuclear waste that under certain conditions could cause an uncontrolled nuclear reaction accident.

The cleanup by the U.S. Department of Energy will take five years and cost at least $82 million.

"DOE is committed to cleaning up the material storage areas at the Paducah site," said DOE spokesman Walter Perry. "This project is a high priority to DOE ... and also with regulators."

The Kentucky Natural Resources Cabinet in September issued a Notice of Violation against DOE, claiming that the DOE material storage areas, known as DMSAs, violate state environmental laws.

The violation notice said hazardous and mixed radioactive waste had been stored for more than 90 days in the C-400 building without a permit, and that material in some of the areas had not been fully characterized.

"DOE has submitted a cleanup plan that is under review," said Mark York, spokesman for the state agency. "We also are still putting together enforcement action against DOE." York said the enforcement action is likely to include a fine and may be issued within three weeks.

Many of the storage areas are in the plant's huge process building and contain old parts and equipment taken out of service in the 1980s and earlier.

Although many of the DMSAs are inside the uranium enrichment plant, which is leased to the United States Enrichment Corp., they remain the responsibility of DOE because the material accumulated when the government operated the plant prior to 1993.

Since some of the material has not been characterized, there is concern that under the right conditions, there could be a nuclear criticality, which is an uncontrolled nuclear reaction. DOE has said that 73 of the sites represent a slight risk of such an incident.

The 160 areas are roped off and marked as radiation zones. While some are inside buildings, such as the C-400 building, others are in and near landfills, and in and near the huge scrap pile that until last fall included "drum mountain."

The initial work will include setting up trailers for workers and characterizing and managing all of the material storage areas, Perry said. The state has given DOE until June 30 to complete the characterization work.

The cleanup plan prepared by DOE says more than 60 workers will be involved in the characterization, management and cleanup activities.

The plan also said that the 160 sites have been prioritized for cleanup, with those with the greatest risk of a nuclear criticality having top priority. Thirty-three sites have been labeled as having Level A priority. There are two other priority levels.

Perry also said that work will begin next month to actually clean up some of the Level A areas.

The cost for the 2001 fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, is $14 million. Perry said DOE estimates annual costs of $18 million in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and $14 million in 2005.

The Level A sites consist of three in the C-400 building, two in the C-409 building, 11 in the process buildings and 17 that are outside.

Perry said the work will be done under the direction of Bechtel Jacobs Co., DOE's environmental contractor at the Paducah plant.