Cleaning up Paducah's uranium enrichment plant (Part Five)

Apr 30, 2010

Paducah, KY – It's been 60 years since the Atomic Energy Commission announced Paducah would become the site of the Nation's second uranium enrichment plant. Today, in the final part of this week's series, Paducah Remediation Services Communication Manager Joe Tarentino describes the Department of Energy's role at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant as it looks to the future.

The last commentary in the series dealing with the Department of Energy's role at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant looks to the future. As we have discussed in earlier commentaries, DOE has removed or isolated the public from exposure to those sources of contamination that pose a risk to human health or the environment. The agency also has removed a number of potential risks to human health and the environment since it began work at the Paducah Site.

DOE has agreements with the State of Kentucky and the US Environmental Protection Agency that calls for much of the cleanup of contamination caused by past plant operations to be completed by 2019. Some clean up will take longer.

However, as landowner of the site, DOE remains responsible for removal of contaminated facilities, currently associated with uranium enrichment operations provided by USEC, and the final environmental cleanup of the site once facility demolition is complete.

USEC, under the lease agreement, maintains the facilities that they lease. When USEC determines that they do not plan to continue operations of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, they will provide DOE with a notification of their intent to terminate the lease two years in advance of their operational shut down. The timetable is dependent on USEC. DOE is already engaged in D&D of some unused facilities. If all the facilities that are presently leased were returned back to DOE and DOE began D&D of all the facilities at the PGDP site, it would call for the removal of 532 buildings encompassing 8.5 million square feet of space. In order to prepare for the eventual D&D DOE must begin planning for those activities now. This includes determining what the future use of the site will be.

Today, the DOE Paducah Site is a mix of heavy industry and recreation. Inside the plant, nearly 2,000 people are involved in enriching uranium for nuclear power plants or cleaning up the environmental legacies of the past. Outside the plant security area, more than 2,000 acres are licensed to Kentucky for use as part of the West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area.

In early 2009, DOE tasked the Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and Environment, a collaborative effort of Kentucky universities administered by the University of Kentucky, to conduct a study that will solicit community input regarding the future use of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant site. This project has started and will involve multiple community meetings and interviews. A summary of the results will be published and used to facilitate a final decision regarding the future of the plant site.

Other key decisions have started that will facilitate the eventual D&D of the site. DOE is currently working with the State and EPA to determine the best solution to multiple waste burial sites, referred to as burial grounds, remaining from past operations.

In addition, DOE is also working with the State of Kentucky and EPA to conduct a study to determine future waste disposal at the site. Once future demolition activities begin in earnest 8.5 million square feet of building material waste will be produced. DOE is looking at the safest, most effective way to dispose of that waste.

Because of the importance of these and other key decisions, the federal government is asking for your help.

The Paducah Citizens Advisory Board has formed a specific subcommittee to evaluate technical decisions regarding the remediation of the burial grounds and a subcommittee to look at waste disposal options. Please take time to become an informed member and offer input to these future efforts. For more information about participation, please call the Citizens Advisory Board office at 270-554-3400.

Also, take the time to attend public meetings hosted by the Department of Energy or KRCEE. Your input during the early stages of these decisions is critical in obtaining a path forward that meets the needs of all plant stakeholders.

This is the conclusion of our commentaries on the Department of Energy's role at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion site. If you would like more information, or have questions about any of the commentaries, please feel free to contact the Department of Energy at (270) 441-6821.

Joe Tarentino is the Communication Manager for Paducah Remediation Services. If you would like more information, or have questions, please contact the Department of Energy at 270-441-6821.