The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, January 16, 2003

DOE still stalling recycling projects
PACRO was reassured Wednesday of a voice in the nickel project. Safety and budget concerns are holding up flourine cell reuse.

By Joe Walker

Federal safety and budgetary issues continue to stall efforts by a regional economic development group to recycle discarded materials at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

A proposal by the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization to recycle nickel remains with the Department of Energy, which is considering lifting a ban on selling contaminated metal at any of its plants because of radiation safety concerns. Late last year, the Energy Department began talking about shipping the nickel to Oak Ridge, Tenn., for recycling — a plan PACRO officials oppose because it would mean no local economic benefits.

Instead, the DOE-funded reuse group has been negotiating with Chemical Vapor Deposition Manufacturing, a Canadian firm interested in recycling some of the 9,700 tons of contaminated nickel. The nickel is worth $40 million to $60 million, and CVD’s proposal would return about $8 million to the community. Previous estimates showed that recycling could create 50 or more jobs for at least 25 years.

A week before Christmas, DOE officials promised to reconsider the shipment idea and give PACRO officials a say in deciding what to do with the nickel. The two groups held a follow-up conference call Wednesday in which Vince Adams, director of DOE's Facilities and Material Reuse Division, said PACRO officials would be allowed to help determine criteria for nickel recycling.

Although the reuse group may not have a role in deciding the ultimate fate of the nickel, it will continue to press for "a seat at the table," said Henry Hodges, head of the PACRO facilities-reuse committee.

"We're just not going to let $8 million slip through our hands," he said. "Not without a fight."

Another PACRO project, recycling old fluorine cells at the plant, also is on hold because of concerns about radiation safety and federal funding.

Late last summer, trucks were expected to start hauling 15 breached fluorine cells from the plant to Oak Ridge for decontamination before being shipped to Ozark Fluorine Specialties in Tulsa, Okla. The firm, a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based ToxCo, plans to reuse the breached cells, plus 60 undamaged ones to be shipped later from the plant. The cells were used many years ago in fluorinating uranium to be enriched for use in nuclear fuel.

PACRO, formed to offset job losses at the plant, has a $75,000 brokerage-services contract with ToxCo. The work is estimated to save $2.5 million in federal cleanup costs.

PACRO Director John Anderson told members of the finance committee Wednesday that the cells still have not been moved. He said the Energy Department is reviewing worker-safety issues because tests have found more radiation than expected in an old, closed building where the cells are stored. There are also funding concerns because of the lack of a new federal budget, Anderson said.

"We now think it will lengthen the process by four or five months," he said, adding that he will know more after a meeting Tuesday in Oak Ridge.

Anderson said the work is not completely stalled because 12 empty hydrogen fluoride tanks stored outside the building will be moved as soon as paint contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is stripped from the tanks' exteriors.

In other matters, the finance committee heard reports that:

The Regional Industrial Park Authority is gaining support from local farming groups for legislation to use $10 million in tobacco-settlement funds for park development. The authority, which had been funded solely from PACRO money, now has commitments for $2.53 million in state and federal money to start buying some of the more than 2,200 acres under option in northern Graves County. The funding includes a $1.02 million grant from the Energy Department.

Eighty-seven of 179 eligible workers at the gaseous diffusion plant have submitted packages for early retirement. Plant operator USEC Inc. is cutting 200 jobs, first by offering early-retirement incentives and then by laying people off. Last month, the finance committee learned that workers had until Dec. 31 to respond to the retirement offers and Jan. 8 to withdraw acceptance.