The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Meeting to study hazardous waste
The Nov. 26 public meeting will focus on 15 billion pounds of hazardous material the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant would handle.

By Joe Walker jwalker@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

A public meeting is set for Nov. 26 to study the environmental and economic impact of building a facility to convert about 15 billion pounds of hazardous waste at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant into safer material.

The meeting will be from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Paducah Information Age Park Resource Center. In Tuesday's Federal Register, the U.S. Department of Energy announced its intent to prepare an environmental impact statement on the conversion project. Public comments will be accepted through Nov. 26, DOE spokesman Walter Perry said.

DOE is expected to award a contract in late October for the work, which will convert nearly 58,000 cylinders of depleted uranium hexafluoride (UF6) into material that may one day have commercial use. Most of the cylinders are at Paducah and the rest are at closed uranium enrichment plants at Piketon, Ohio, and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Finalists include three groups, one of which includes USEC Inc., the Paducah plant operator.

John Cooper, a lobbyist for the city and county governments, told commissioners at a joint meeting Tuesday that last week's terrorist attacks may delay the contract award.

"There was supposed to be a conversion decision in late October," Cooper said. "The events of last Tuesday changed all that. It has pushed it back, and I don't know how long."

Construction must start by Jan. 31, 2004, according to federal law. Although the law mandates conversion facilities be built at Paducah and Piketon, DOE's notice describes that scenario as the "preferred" plan for purposes of the study under the National Environmental Policy Act. The contract is contingent on completing the study, DOE said.

Other alternatives are building one plant at Paducah or Piketon, using existing commercial conversion plants, or continuing to store the material in cylinders.

The study will assess worker and public health and environmental impacts of the project. UF6 in its normal, solid form resembles rock salt and contains low-level radiation. When released to the atmosphere, it reacts with water vapor to form toxic substances, notably hydrogen fluoride, the department said.

Besides environmental impact, the study will gauge the facilities' construction and operational effect on local employment, income, population, housing and public services. Some past estimates have shown each plant would employ 100 to 200 people, depending on the level of government involvement. Several hundred construction jobs are anticipated in each community.

The notice is available by linking the Federal Register at www.gpo.gov and doing a keyword search.

For information or to send written comments, contact Kevin Shaw, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management, Office of Site Closure-Oak Ridge Office (EM-32), 19901 Germantown Road, Germantown, MD 20874; fax: 301-903-3479; or e-mail DUF6Comments@em.doe.gov (use NOI Comments for the subject).