The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Saturday, August 16, 2003

DOE cleanup intent pact looms
Gov. Patton expects the letter of intent on accelerated cleanup of the Paducah plant will be signed early next week.

By Bill Bartleman
LANCE DENNEE/The Sun Governor visits: Gov. Paul Patton discusses cleanup work at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant with Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary Mark York (center) and state Division of Waste Management Deputy Director Tony Hatton.

The U.S. Department of Energy and Kentucky Natural Resources Cabinet appear close to final agreement on an accelerated cleanup plan that will mean tens of millions of dollars in increased federal funding for cleaning contamination at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Gov. Paul Patton said he met with top DOE officials for five hours Monday in Washington during which an oral agreement was reached establishing deadlines, or milestones, for completing major cleanup.

At a news conference Friday in Paducah, Patton said he expected a letter of intent would be signed by the end of the week. However, he said the signing was delayed because the agreement was still being reviewed by officials at the highest levels of DOE and department attorneys. He said he doesn't anticipate any last-minute problems and predicted it would be signed early next week.

Mayor Bill Paxton said the apparent agreement is a major accomplishment that should speed the cleanup of contamination. Extra funding for Paducah's cleanup has been in doubt because Kentucky was the only state that had not reached an accelerated cleanup agreement with DOE.

Patton said the sticking point for the state was ensuring that any plan for accelerated cleanup included milestones for completing the most serious work, and commitments to complete total cleanup of the plant, which enriches uranium for use as a nuclear fuel.

Patton said the state thought an agreement in principle had been reached in April but that additional problems arose in working out details for establishing milestones. All of those problems were discussed and resolved in meetings with DOE earlier in the week, he said.

Patton declined to give details of the agreement or the milestones that were established. "We don't want to get into those details until the document is signed," Patton said. "Those will be in the letter of intent."

A key issue also is the deadline for completing cleanup. While DOE officials initially agreed to having all the major work completed by 2010, state environmental officials conceded the deadline cannot be met. The agreement reached in Washington this week is expected to extend the deadline until about 2020.

Patton said the agreement recognizes two phases of work. The first phase includes the most serious problems that threaten to spread contamination off of the DOE site, and the second phase involves less serious problems, some of which can't be corrected while the plant continues in operation, he said.

He said the letter of intent is not the final document needed for an agreement. He said it sets the guidelines for meeting a Sept. 15 deadline of resolving all the issues related to the cleanup timetable. "If we sign this agreement, we'll have a final agreement by Sept. 15," Patton said.

The five areas that will get immediate attention in the next five years:

Cleanup of the North-South Diversion Ditch, which is contaminated with chemicals and radioactive materials that leaked from a building where equipment was cleaned and rebuilt.

Removal and cleanup of a scrap metal yard that includes thousands of tons of equipment taken out of service during an upgrade of the plant 20 years ago. The material is believed to be contributing to the contamination of groundwater.

Cleanup of two areas that are believed to be contributing to offsite groundwater contamination. They are the C-400 building, where material was cleaned and rebuilt for many years, and the Southwest Plume.

Interim action to make sure that landfills and burial grounds are not releasing contaminated material outside the plant.