The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, April 17, 2003

USEC plant awaits decision on recycling
The DOE has banned the sale of contaminated metal, even though the recycling work would return about $8 million to the community and create about 50 jobs.

By Joe Walker

Attempts to create jobs by recycling nickel at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant are on hold while the Department of Energy studies the environmental effect of recycling here and at plants nationwide.

The decision is a setback for the DOE-funded Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization (PACRO), which has been negotiating with Chemical Vapor Deposition Manufacturing, a Canadian firm interested in recycling some of the 9,700 tons of contaminated nickel. The work would return about $8 million to the community and create about 50 jobs.

DOE had considered lifting a three-year ban on selling contaminated metal because of radiation-safety concerns. The ban was imposed after environmental and health groups claimed that recycling the nickel for use in consumer products would cause a health risk. Supporters of recycling countered that contamination is below federal standards and doesn't pose a health threat.

The ban apparently will stay in place during the study, which has been expanded to include nickel, said PACRO Director John Anderson. "We think it will take six months to a year to complete, but it's a moving target."

Until then, the organization will develop contingency plans based on whether the ban continues or is partially or fully lifted, he said.

The Energy Department held a public meeting in Paducah 18 months ago to talk about the study, which had been targeted for release last summer. The work will determine what amount of scrap-metal release, if any, is safe to workers and the public, as well as the costs involved.

Late last year, the Energy Department began talking about shipping the nickel to Oak Ridge, Tenn., for recycling. PACRO officials opposed that because it would mean no local economic benefits. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate, wrote Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham April 2 asking him "to keep the community's interests in mind" if the ban is lifted.

The nickel was a topic of Wednesday's PACRO executive committee meeting in which Ric Ladt stepped down as chairman and was honored for three years' service. He was replaced by Marty Nichols.

The committee reviewed the past year in which PACRO:

Saw full repayment on three low-interest loans totaling $149,275, creating or retaining 15 jobs through small business development. Approved an $85,500 loan for a former plant worker to start Honey Enterprises, a Chinese-American restaurant on Cairo Road. The 10-job eatery is slated to open in late spring.

Provided a $125,000 matching grant to regional marketing group CenterPointe to help recruit business and industry.

Signed an agreement with Los Angeles-based ToxCo to recycle abandoned fluorine cells at the Paducah plant. The work will create 10 jobs and save the Energy Department about $2.5 million in cleanup costs.

Provided about $5.2 million in grants and loans for spec buildings and other work to improve industrial parks in the five-county PACRO area. The projects have created or preserved about 350 jobs. Last week, Ballard became the first county to repay its loan, nearly $458,000 for a spec building in the West Kentucky Technical Park at Kevil. Two plant cleanup firms lease the building.

Received nearly $1.7 million in Energy Department grants for a regional industrial park to be built in north Graves County.

Worked with the nuclear workers' union and West Kentucky Technical College to develop a program to help dislocated Paducah plant employees. Through the program, 135 people have found new jobs, 61 have been retrained and 11 have received deferred college tuition.