The grand jury's subpoenas are confirmed by the company that operated the Paducah plant for DOE from 1982 until 1992.
By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Jurkowsky, Lockheed Martin spokesman, said he didn't know the identity of the former workers, whether any were top managers or the content of their subpoenas.
"We have not been informed if the company is the target of the investigation," Jurkowsky said. "We are cooperating fully."
Lockheed operated the plant for DOE from 1982 until 1992, when the uranium enrichment operation was privatized and taken over by USEC Inc. The workers were then transferred from Lockheed to USEC.
USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said late Thursday that she didn't know whether any of those subpoenaed are still working at the plant.
The grand jury began meeting Wednesday, and one of those to testify was Harold Hargan of Pulaski County, Ill., who worked at the plant for almost 40 years, including the 10 years the plant was operated by Lockheed Martin. He retired in 1992.
Hargan said he was asked about how workers handled trichlorethylene, a highly toxic chemical that was used to clean radioactive material and other chemicals from processing equipment. He said he testified that workers in the 1980s did not follow long-standing procedures, which resulted in TCE spills on the floor of the C-400 building that were being washed into drains.
Investigations have revealed that TCE from the C-400 building leaked into a drainage ditch, causing contamination not only from the TCE, but also from radioactive material that had been cleaned from the equipment. One of the major problems around the plant is groundwater contamination.
Hargan said workers dipped the processing equipment into huge vats filled with TCE. He said that if the equipment was properly rigged, all of the TCE would drain back into the vat after the equipment was removed.
"They didn't do it right, and TCE would run onto the floor," Hargan said. He estimates that at least 5,000 pounds of the chemical were washed into the building's drains over a 10-year period. It eventually ran into the north-south diversion ditch, believed to be the source of major contamination.
Hargan said he also told the grand jury that supervisors and managers ignored his repeated warnings that the process being used by workers was wrong and causing contamination.
"Instead of listening to me, the plant management tried to punish me and run me off," he said in an interview Thursday after he returned to his home from Louisville, where the grand jury is meeting.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating claims made in a whistleblower suit filed in June 1999 that the hundreds of millions of dollars in operating fees that Lockheed received were improperly earned because it was filing false environmental reports.
"Lockheed denies the allegations that it failed to operate the facility properly and will defend the civil action," Jurkowsky said. "We have been cooperating fully."
The suit asks that the improperly earned operating fees be returned to the federal government. If successful, those who filed the suit — three current and former workers and an environmental group — would receive up to 25 percent of the proceeds. Joe Egan, the environmental attorney who filed the suit, said the potential settlement is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Department of Justice has spent several million dollars investigating the claims in an effort to determine whether it wants to become a co-plaintiff. The U.S. attorney's office in Louisville has recommended that the government join the suit, and a final decision is pending in Washington. After receiving 13 extensions, federal officials now face a Dec. 17 deadline for making the decision.
Hargan said government attorneys and investigators did not give him details about what laws they think were violated or how long the grand jury probe will last. He said that before testifying Wednesday afternoon, he met for several hours with criminal investigators for the Environmental Protection Agency and with the Department of Justice.
The U.S. attorney's office in Louisville would not comment.
Hargan is a plaintiff in another suit that was filed two years ago.
That class-action suit against Lockheed and former operator Union Carbide seeks about $10 billion for current and former employees who became ill while working at the plant. That suit is pending in U.S. District Court in Paducah.