The review of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant was requested by Sen. Jim Bunning. Investigators will be in town next week.
By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
The study was ordered by Congress at the request of U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a longtime critic of the U.S. Department of Energy's progress in cleaning up contamination at the plant, where uranium is enriched for nuclear fuel.
Bunning, a member of the Senate Energy Committee that oversees DOE, said that when the study is completed later this year, he'll schedule a congressional hearing in Paducah to question DOE officials, state and federal environmental officials, and others associated with the cleanup.
DOE is spending more than $100 million a year to clean up and manage nuclear and chemical contamination and waste generated during the 50 years the plant has been in operation.
"I am waiting for the GAO study to tell me what DOE has done and what it hasn't done," Bunning said. "Then we'll question the top officials about what was found." Bunning said two of the officials who will be asked to testify at the Paducah hearing are Jessie Roberson, DOE assistant secretary of environmental management, and Hank List, secretary of the Kentucky Natural Resources Cabinet.
Roberson said she welcomes an independent review and will use the findings as a planning aid. She speculated that one conclusion will be that the work should be streamlined. She says DOE is trying to do with an accelerated cleanup plan.
She said the plan eliminates much of the paperwork and bureaucracy that have created delays. However, state environmental officials have rejected the plan, contending it lacks guarantees that the work will be completed on time.
Bunning said the GAO study will review the accelerated cleanup plan and the state's objections.
The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, has conducted other investigations involving the plant.
While Bunning hopes the study is completed in late summer or early fall, GAO spokeswoman Sherry McDonald said the final report might not be ready until early 2004. One challenge, she said, is obtaining records dating to 1988 to document how $750 million in cleanup funds has been spent.
Bunning also wants the audit to be a report card on how DOE responded to "cleanup challenges" identified in a 2000 audit, which found the cleanup plan underfunded, overly optimistic and not comprehensive enough to carry out the work.
The 2000 report also found that the cleanup would cost $2.4 billion — compared with DOE's $1 billion estimate — and said completion wouldn't come until at least 2021, well beyond DOE's goal of 2010.