The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, April 01, 2004

Unlikely DOE cleanup at plant
The Bush administration tells the local Citizens Advisory Board is told the site will have no use besides hazardous waste storage.

By Joe Walker

The Department of Energy seems uninterested in cleaning up its Paducah nuclear fuel plant enough to attract other industrial users after the factory closes early next decade.

That's the view of Bill Tanner, chairman of the plant Citizens Advisory Board, which sent 12 recommendations Tuesday to DOE officials in Washington. The group wants the department to clean up the plant sufficiently to protect the public and preserve jobs after operator USEC Inc. replaces it with a new gas centrifuge plant in Piketon, Ohio, around 2010.

"I'm afraid the Paducah site will never be usable for anything else," Tanner said. "I think it will basically end up being just a dedicated hazardous waste site."

Tanner said his concern stems from working with DOE officials in recent months as the board compiled the recommendations. DOE has taken a much more conservative approach to the cleanup during the Bush administration, he said.

Tanner cited a recent speech in which Jessie Roberson, DOE assistant secretary for environmental management, said cleanup would be achieved based on the health risk that contamination poses. "I think that's the handwriting on the wall," he said.

A DOE draft "vision" document assumes that massive groundwater contamination beneath the Paducah plant would be left for nature to clean up, rather than spend as much as $140 million trying to eliminate sources of the pollution. The board wants DOE to clean up the sources and eliminate all burial grounds to prevent pollution from migrating.

The recommendations were accompanied by support letters from the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization, a DOE-funded economic development group, and from the Active Citizens for Truth, a plant neighbor group. Tanner said he hopes to secure similar letters from other local organizations this month. Various community leaders have said it is critical that the 1,300-worker plant be cleaned up enough to have an industrial life after it closes.

Other recommendations:

Clean up the plant for further industrial use and continued recreational use of the wildlife management land around the plant.

Characterize any post-closure contamination with the idea of eliminating liability for future industrial users.

Move "reindustrialization" forward by making parts of the plant more accessible, decontaminating buildings, improving infrastructure, and talking with PACRO and other groups about the value and reuse potential of plant assets.

 Rather than building a controversial landfill, consider using the plant's four huge process buildings (the two largest ones cover 26 acres) to store hazardous waste sealed in concrete. The buildings have little value for future industrial use.

Within two years, establish permanent agreements with 121 homes and businesses that now receive free municipal water because of real or threatened groundwater contamination, or "buy out" owners of contaminated property.

As soon as possible, educate the community on issues such as the long-term taxpayer costs of dealing with environmental problems after the plant closes.

Provide plant facilities for companies dealing with cleanup technology and for University of Kentucky research to clean up and recycle plant waste, such as nickel and depleted uranium. Explore plant development of hazardous material and emergency response training facilities, and an energy research technology park.

Building a consensus for the recommendations has shown how little people really know about plant cleanup, Tanner said. "They think DOE is cleaning it up, and when it's done, the plant will be clean, which isn't necessarily the case."