The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

Radioactive cylinder recycling on pace if funding is left intact

The funding must still be approved by the full Senate before differences with the House bill can be worked out in conference.

By Joe Walker

Friday, June 17, 2005

The recycling of 39,000 cylinders of low-level radioactive waste at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant will stay on pace if Congress doesn't tinker with funding earmarked by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The committee added $15 million to the House version Thursday, pushing funding from $70.8 million to $85.8 million. Recycling plants here and in Piketon, Ohio, would share the funding.

"Obviously, senators Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning had a lot to do with that," said Tim Forden, president of recycling contractor Uranium Disposition Services. "That brings us back to the full funding level, so there's no question the project will stay on track."

The funding is included in the fiscal 2006 Energy and Water Appropriations bill and must still be approved by the full Senate, then differences with the House bill worked out in conference. McConnell, a senior member of the appropriations committee, said Paducah nuclear projects remain one of his top priorities during the funding process.

Other projects approved by the committee:

$105 million for cleanup of the plant, which enriches uranium for use in nuclear fuel. The amount is $7 million more than the House version and includes additional funds to speed up characterization and disposal elsewhere of scrap metal and low-level radioactive waste.

$465,000 for continued operation of a mobile unit that screens nuclear workers for early signs of lung cancer. The unit visits Paducah, Piketon and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

$32 million, compared with $21.75 million in the House, for ongoing work to double the size of Kentucky Lock. The Bush administration budget had no money for the lock project, now 25 percent complete.

$85 million for the half-finished new Olmsted Locks and Dam, which started in 1993. House legislation included $90 million.

Morsey Inc. of Calvert City, which did site preparation work for the conversion plant, has been awarded two contracts worth $1.3 million to lay a foundation and erect a prefabricated metal warehouse building. Foundation work should begin by the end of June, Forden said.

He said the firm expects to award a contract for an administration building in about 45 days. Other contracts this summer will include waste disposal and a railroad spur for the recycling factory, to be build in front of the diffusion plant in west McCracken County.

On June 27, UDS will assume operation of the plant cylinder yards from Bechtel Jacobs, lead environmental contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy. That work involves eight to 10 jobs.

The factory will convert spent uranium hexafluoride in the cylinders into more stable material from which valuable fluorine will be extracted. Leftover waste will be shipped to Energy Department-approved disposal facilities in the desert Southwest.

Once the factory shell is erected by early 2006, employment for mechanical and electrical work will quickly increase to about 200 and remain at that level for about six months. Hiring for 150 long-term operational and support jobs will start about six months before the plant opens, sometime in 2007.

The Paducah factory will operate for 25 years with four production lines, each converting about one of the massive 10- and 14-ton cylinders daily.