The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Tuesday, March 12, 2002

DOE to reveal part of data in Paducah ruling
About 2,000 pages on shipments to the Paducah plant are to be made public by September, with the rest to come later.

By Joe Walker jwalker@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

The U.S. Department of Energy apparently intends to make declassification rulings by September on about one-third of 6,000 pages of overdue information about Cold War-era shipments of dismantled nuclear weapons to the Paducah uranium enrichment plant.

That is in response to a federal judge's order Feb. 5 that DOE submit a schedule for making the information public. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert in Benton, Ill., said a backlog of hundreds of Freedom of Information requests was no excuse for DOE not responding to two September 1999 requests by Mark Donham and Kristi Hanson of Brookport, Ill., leaders of the Regional Association of Concerned Environmentalists.

Donham said DOE sent him a preliminary compliance schedule. DOE intends to set up a special area of its Freedom of Information Office in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to immediately start declassifying the material, Donham said. "It said they expect a determination on the first 2,000 documents by September, and the two other installments of 2,000 pages would be done in a couple of months' increments."

Gilbert said the FOI backlog was not an "exceptional circumstance" qualifying for the requested indefinite delay.

Although DOE should have already provided the information, a September partial compliance date is better than an "open-ended" schedule, Donham said. The request involves records of dismantled nuclear weapons shipments made during the Cold War between Paducah and the Pantex facility in Amarillo, Texas, for the recovery of precious metals, and burial.

Gilbert had given DOE until Monday to respond to a request by Donham and Hanson for documents relating to the once-proposed Vortec radioactive waste incinerator project at the plant.

Donham said he had received "three or four reams" of paper from DOE regarding Vortec, including documents showing DOE intended to seek a state air permit.

"I think we're basically talking about a project that isn't going to happen, at least in the form it was planned," Donham said.

The environmentalist group filed suit Feb. 16, 2001, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. DOE responded that it had a backlog of more than 600 FOI requests, handled on a first-come, first-served basis.

According to Gilbertís ruling, DOE said last April 25 that it would take four to six months to respond to the Vortec request, and as long as 18 months for the weapons information to reach final declassification review.