The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

Cylinder security concerns guards

The DOE, however, says high security will be maintained as UDS recycles hazardous waste at the Paducah plant.

By Joe Walker

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Leaders of the guards union warn there is too little security planned for 33,000 cylinders of hazardous waste that will be recycled at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant starting in 2007.

They have asked federal lawmakers from Kentucky to intervene, saying they disagree with the assessment of cylinder handler Uranium Disposition Services and the Department of Energy that only limited security is needed.

"DOE has always had a night-watchman attitude toward security at this plant," Jay Stoll, president of Local 111 of Security Police and Fire Professionals of America, said in a news release. "We feel that this is the first step of a no-security attitude by DOE and UDS."

UDS President Tim Forden referred questions to the Energy Department, which released a statement Monday afternoon disputing Stoll's claims.

"We will still require the same level of service from the protective forces and expect them to be vigilant and maintain the high security standards that apply to the entire site," the statement said in part, going on to characterize Stoll's criticism "that there will be no security and no controls" as incorrect.

UDS assumed operation of the plant cylinder yards Monday. The firm is building a factory just west of the yards — inside a fenced area east of the plant entrance road — to convert spent uranium hexafluoride (UF6) in the 14-ton canisters 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.

The plant will operate for 25 years with four production lines, each converting about one of the massive cylinders daily. The material — a byproduct of daily production of UF6 for use in nuclear fuel — contains low-level radiation, but its main threat is that it releases caustic hydrogen fluoride when exposed to moisture in the air.

Some of the cylinders have been stored since the plant started operating in 1952. Many have been repainted, but many are rusty, and critics worry about a hydrogen fluoride release.

Stoll said the cylinders, which are near a wooded area, no longer will have access controls other than the fence. Union officers have met with managers of DOE and UDS, who feel that very little or no security is needed, he said.

"We feel the public has a right to know about this lack of security," he said, adding that union leaders have sought help from Rep. Ed Whitfield and Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning.

DOE's statement pointed out that a "detailed security plan was developed," and "the Nuclear Regulatory Commission concurred with our plan."

Stoll also expressed concern that no one working directly with UDS can have a plant security clearance because the company is partly foreign-owned. The Lexington-based firm is a joint venture of three companies, including Framatome, a French consortium that has been converting UF6 waste in Germany since 1994 and in Washington state since 1998.

DOE scrutinized the foreign-ownership issue in awarding a $558 million contract to UDS to build and run similar conversion plants here and in Piketon, Ohio.