The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, October 18, 2001

Public comments on possible lift of scrap metal ban
An informational meeting was held via teleconference from PCC to discuss the DOE possibly releasing contaminated metal.

By Joe Walker

Some people say the Department of Energy has no business considering lifting nationwide bans on the release of radioactively contaminated scrap metal from its facilities, including the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion plant, which has 54,000 tons of the material.

"What would ever make you conceive of this idea?" asked Pam Dickerson, whose father worked at the Paducah plant for many years. "... We don't like it. It's your mess."

Dickerson was among about 20 people attending an informational meeting Wednesday night at Paducah Community College. They were linked by satellite with officials at DOE's Washington, D.C., headquarters and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

The department wants public input for an environmental impact statement on whether to resume the controlled release of the metal or continue with two bans issued last year based on concerns from the metals industry and public. Dickerson and others are worried some of the recycled metal might end up in children's dental braces and other consumer products.

But DOE officials said the environmental process is to determine what amount of release, if any, is safe to workers and the public, as well as the costs involved. Although the study will examine the health impact of using the metals commercially, the use traditionally has been limited to construction materials with standards requiring radiation to be no higher than that found naturally in soil and elsewhere, they said.

"Clearly, if it's going to show that it's not safe to do that (release the metals) ... I won't recommend, anyway, that we select those alternatives," said Ken Picha Jr., DOE environmental impact statement program manager.

The department plans to hold a public hearing in Paducah at an unspecified date before issuing a draft impact statement in March. After another round of public comments, a final statement will be issued in August.

Mark Donham, chairman of the Paducah plant's citizens advisory board, said the board issued a policy two years ago saying the metal should not be released unless federal safety standards were set. The National Academy of Sciences is studying the safety issue for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees nuclear safety at the Paducah plant.

DOE projects a million tons of the scrap metal, mostly carbon steel, will be generated within the next 20 years under current plans to decommission its plants. Roughly 30 to 50 percent of the surplus metal could be a candidate for recycling. About 84 percent of the metal is at Oak Ridge; Piketon, Ohio; and Paducah, in buildings still used and scrap yards.

The impact statement does not include contaminated nickel at the Paducah plant that some companies want to recycle. Bans also cover the nickel, a situation that concerns the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization, which is trying to market recycling business.