The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, July 04, 2002

DOE to meet with state to land cleanup funds
At stake is a share of $800 million set aside to hasten cleanup at plants such as Paducah's gaseous diffusion plant.

By Joe Walker jwalker@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

With a deadline less than a month away, Department of Energy and regulatory officials are headed back to the table trying to resolve differences that could produce added cleanup money for the Paducah uranium enrichment plant.

Kentucky Natural Resources Secretary James Bickford was attempting to arrange a follow-up meeting next week at his office, said cabinet spokesman Mark York.

"We're doing our best to nail down a time when everyone can make it," he said. "I think we're all committed to doing what we can, as fast as we can, with the bottom line that we all want this site cleaned up."

At stake is Paducah's potential share of $800 million the Energy Department has promised to hasten environmental cleanup at various nuclear sites nationwide on the basis of need. The money must be approved by Congress.

All but about $43 million has been pledged in letters of intent to various sites across the country. Bill Murphie, DOE cleanup manager for Paducah, said he must submit a request by Aug. 1 to the Office of Management and Budget for Paducah to have any chance for the money during the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1.

In response to the Sun's inquiry, he released a statement Wednesday saying another meeting was planned for next week "to discuss the potential path forward."

The Energy Department and state and federal environmental regulators have been unable to agree on a new cleanup plan as a prerequisite for seeking the money. They held a June 17 public meeting in Paducah to talk about the issues and met privately in Frankfort the following week.

Ken Wheeler, chairman of a Paducah enrichment plant task force, said some issues apparently are being resolved that seemed stalemated last month. Regulators said at the public meeting that they wanted faster cleanup but disagreed with DOE on details and weren't ready to back away from a 1998 agreement.

"I think there was a sincere change in approach on both sides after the public meeting and I do believe they met the next week in good faith," Wheeler said. "They've indicated they've made substantial progress. Whether that is enough is the question."

While he and other community leaders push for a resolution, some plant neighbors and watchdog groups question the safety of faster cleanup. Last month, the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability — composed of 33 citizens’ groups around nuclear sites nationwide — sent setters asking Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, and other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to eliminate the fund and provide "adequate, stable funding" for all nuclear sites.

The letters charged that the Energy Department’s "cleanup reform" account is mainly "slush fund" money taken from what Congress appropriated this year for more than a dozen nuclear sites. DOE spokesman Joe Davis denied the claims, saying the group was misinformed and misguided.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the alliance, said DOE is seeking another $300 million in accelerated cleanup money, realizing that the $800 million won't cover the priority work nationwide.