The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, May 30, 2001

USEC move to reduce emissions
With the consolidation of USEC. work by shutting down the Ohio plant, the Paducah plant becomes a stand-alone facility and emissions will be cut in half.

From staff, AP reports

The Earth’s protective ozone layer stands to gain because the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant is a stand-alone facility.

Leaks in hundreds of miles of piping at the Paducah plant and a mothballed sister plant in Ohio are blamed for the emission of a refrigerant that eats the ozone layer. The two plants are by far the country’s largest industrial emitters of that Freon-like chemical, CFC-114, even though the emissions are below regulatory limits.

With the consolidation of United States Enrichment Corp. work by shutting down the Ohio plant earlier this month, the Paducah plant becomes the nation’s only nuclear fuel factory for commercial reactors.

Company officials said the CFC-114 emissions will be cut in half this year because merging the two plants means roughly half as many miles of piping. More reductions will come as the company plugs leaks with a new kind of sealant and finds a replacement coolant.

"This is a legacy issue," said USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle. "We inherited the situation with Freon from earlier days before USEC was formed."

The production and importation of CFC-114, along with many other ozone destroyers, was largely banned years ago as part of a global treaty known as the Montreal Protocol and the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. But the chemical can still be used in industry until supplies run out, and it is still made for medical use.

Critics point to USEC’s refrigerant emissions — more than 800,000 pounds in 1999, the most recent year available — as another example of the hidden costs of nuclear power.

These include environmental damage during uranium mining; the difficulty of handling radioactive waste generated during enrichment and by reactors; the potential for devastating radiation leaks at power plants; and other kinds of waste from the Paducah plant.

Waste and pollutants from the other aspects of running the Paducah plant include mercury, arsenic and cadmium, which are disposed of on and off site, and hydrochloric acid aerosols and chlorine gas, which are released into the air.

Merryman Kemp, a member of the Paducah plant’s citizens advisory board, said she gets infuriated when she hears nuclear power described as environmentally clean.

‘‘I can cuss real well, and I usually do,’’ she told the Courier-Journal of Louisville. ‘‘It really angers me when they (nuclear power advocates) are not challenged on that.’’

Kemp said she was alarmed to learn that the plant was a significant emitter of the ozone-eating chemical, and that most of it is from leaking pipes.

‘‘We don’t want those ozone holes getting bigger and bigger, and more skin cancer and whatever else they cause,’’ she told the Louisville paper. ‘‘This is a matter for us to study.’’

Company officials said nuclear power remains a clean source when compared to coal-fired power plants with their emissions of smog-causing chemicals and greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

Stuckle said refrigerant emissions are a hazard to the ozone layer but do not pose a direct risk to public health and safety. In fact, the same chemical is used in inhalers for people with breathing problems, she said.

‘‘Yes, you do have this issue with (CFC-114 and) enrichment,’’ she said. ‘‘But we are also looking to replace this technology with a new technology toward the end of this decade. Unfortunately this is a necessary thing, because these are the only enrichment facilities that this country had. We don’t want to become dependant on foreign enrichment.’’

Stuckle said transferring Freon in tanks from the Ohio plant and buying recycled refrigerant will allow the Paducah plant to run until at least 2004 without having to replace coolant.

"The possible replacement coolant we've identified has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency," she said. "But it would still have to be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, so we have a way to go."

Cryoseal, a silicon-based material that reacts with moisture to form an epoxy, has been successfully tested at Portsmouth to seal refrigerant leaks, Stuckle said.

"It's very expense, though," she said. "We will start to use that on a limited basis at Paducah this year."

Freon emission numbers are found within the EPA’s toxic release inventory, a giant public database of self-reported pollution totals. In all, the Paducah and Ohio plants released 818,000 pounds of CFC-114 in 1999. It amounted to 88 percent of the national total of industrial sources, and 14 percent of an international industry estimate of all CFC-114 emissions worldwide.

Stuckle said the inventory is for manufacturers and does not include large emissions from agencies such as the federal departments of defense and energy. For example, refrigerants are heavily used by the Navy in cooling ships, she said.