The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

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PGDP waste shipping delayed
The leaks in containers from the gaseous diffusion plant briefly closed I-40 in Arizona last month. It will cost Bechtel Jacobs $200,000 in fines.

By Bill Bartleman

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Shipments of radioactive and chemical waste from the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant to nuclear waste facilities have been suspended because of problems with three recent shipments to the Nevada Test Site, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The incidents that involved leaking containers will cost Bechtel Jacobs Co. at least $200,000 in penalties assessed by DOE. Bechtel Jacobs, the private firm that has a contract to oversee waste management and cleanup at the government-owned plant, will not appeal the penalties, company spokesman Greg Cook said Wednesday.

Cook said the substance that leaked was absorbent packing material placed around hoppers inside shipping steel containers. In each case, the material leaked on the beds of trucks that were transporting the "Sealand" shipping containers. He said the material was harmless, and DOE confirmed it.

"DOE clearly considers this unacceptable, and so do we," Cook said.

DOE said in a letter sent to Bechtel Jacobs on Tuesday that the incidents raised concerns about the company's failure to develop or implement a sound corrective action plan after the first leak was report in June. "Continuation of these types of incidents jeopardizes the environment and the health and safety of the general public," DOE said in the letter.

DOE said that under provisions allowed in its contract with Bechtel Jacobs, it was reducing the amount paid to the company by $200,000 for the 2004 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. "The fee reduction is a result of Bechtel Jacobs' failure to meet the minimum requirement for their Environmental, Safety & Health Program," DOE said.

The suspension of shipments ordered by DOE will give Bechtel Jacobs time to study packing procedures and prevent future problems, Cook said.

The first incident was reported June 25 when the driver of a truck noticed absorbent material on the truck's bed. The material was packed around hoppers containing uranium tetrafluoride that were placed inside the box-type shipping container. Uranium tetrafluoride is waste that had been stored at the plant for at least 30 years, Cook said.

Bechtel Jacobs ordered a halt to shipments so it could determine the cause of the leak. Cook said the new procedures involved taking extra measures to caulk and seal containers.

However, a second incident was reported Aug. 15 when another truck driver reported finding a small quantity of a white, granular solid material and clear, gellatinous material on the bed of the truck. The gel was a result of the absorbent material's getting wet, Cook said.

It was one of five trucks transporting material to the Nevada Test Site, which is 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. "We contacted the other drivers and asked them to inspect their trucks," said Cook, adding that the material was found in two other trucks.

The trucks were traveling along Interstate 40 and were ordered to stop and wait for DOE's Radiological Assistance Program team to inspect and clean up the spills. One of the trucks was near Flagstaff, Ariz., the second about 20 miles west of Albuquerque, N.M., and the third near Gallup, N.M.

In Arizona, a portion of I-40 was closed for about 45 minutes because state highway patrol officers weren't sure of the substance or its danger, Cook said. The truck had stopped at a roadside rest area.

Also, DOE reported that the absorbent material leaked in another shipment of radioactive waste that was discovered Aug. 16 when the truck arrived at the Nevada Test Site, Cook said.

DOE also said it is considering additional fines for noncompliance with the contract and direct costs associated with the incidents.