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

DOE faces deadlines for cleanup
If the department falls behind the new milestones at the Paducah plant, the state would have the option of suing to force it to meet the schedule.

By Bill Bartleman

Environmental regulators say an agreement signed this week should make the U.S. Department of Energy more accountable for making significant progress in hazardous waste cleanup at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

The agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Kentucky Natural Resources Cabinet requires DOE to establish deadlines, or milestones, for completing work on a multitude of individual projects, rather than establishing only one deadline of having all of the work completed by 2010.

The plant opened in 1953 to enrich uranium into nuclear fuel. There is widespread soil and groundwater contamination from nuclear waste buried in landfills and chemicals used to clean equipment. In 1988, DOE began to identify the problems and prepare a cleanup plan.

"This agreement gives us a way of measuring the progress that DOE is making toward the final goal of total cleanup," said Hank List, secretary of the Natural Resources Cabinet. "They have already spent a lot millions out there and there hasn't been a significant reduction in the size of the problem or the amount of waste that is there."

The agreement outlines work that must be completed by 2005. List said it will be reviewed and updated annually. If DOE fell behind, the state would have the option of suing to force it to meet the schedule.

The agreement also requires the three agencies to renegotiate a detailed plan for removing all hazardous waste. The plan must be finalized by Sept. 15.

While the current plan is to have all hazardous waste removed by 2010, List said that date isn't realistic because some projects are taking longer than anticipated and the scope of work has increased. He speculated that the end date would be extended, but would not say how long.

The agreement ends a dispute that began more than a year ago when DOE pushed an accelerated cleanup plan that would have eliminated all milestones except the final date for completing the work.

DOE argued that it cost millions of dollars to do paperwork and planning associated with meeting milestones for individual projects, and that those funds would be better spent doing actual cleanup work.

State and federal EPA officials, however, insisted on deadlines for specific projects, saying it is the only way to monitor the progress and ensure that DOE is diligent in seeking funds to do the work.

Gov. Paul Patton said the agreement is important to western Kentucky.

"The execution of this agreement is ... an important milestone in the ongoing efforts to ensure an adequate and expedited cleanup of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant," Patton said.

"State government is committed to ensuring the success of the cleanup due to the direct correlation of the environmental challenges and the continued economic development potential of the region."