Commentary
10:33 am
Tue April 27, 2010

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

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 second of this week's five part series, Paducah Remediation Services Communication Manager Joe Tarentino elaborates on the discovery of contamination at the site, the ongoing environmental investigations, and the steps taken by the Department of Energy to protect the citizens of Western Kentucky.

In our second commentary on the Department of Energy's role at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant we will elaborate on the discovery of contamination at the site, the ongoing environmental investigations, and the steps taken by DOE to protect the citizens of Western Kentucky.

Today the United States is faced with environmental problems stemming from industrial operations dating back to the 1800's. Because the rapid development of the industrial movement was dominant in the day to day lives of America's citizens it often overshadowed unintended or unknown consequences of such advancement. Only recently, in the last quarter century, has the United States begun to understand the effects of daily plant operations, such as factory maintenance and disposal of industrial waste had on the environment.

For example, at the Paducah plant site, a commonly used degreaser, trichloroethylene, or TCE, was used to clean equipment. In Paducah, employees of the plant used large volumes of TCE in routine maintenance of plant equipment. Today TCE is an example of chlorinated chemicals that appear to be more dangerous than previously thought.

In 1988 TCE and Technetium 99 were discovered in residential wells adjacent to the site. DOE immediately provided a temporary alternate water supply to affected residents and instituted a program that provided city water to residents.

This led to an extensive site-wide investigation into off-site contamination. A follow on study focused on the on-site contributing sources and the level of risk to human health and the environment. Following the 1988 discovery, DOE worked diligently to assure all immediate threats were quickly removed or isolated and public access to lesser risks was restricted.

DOE established a routine environmental monitoring program that continues to provide feedback and assurances that the effects of DOE operations on human health and the environment are minimized.

Through extensive sampling, two off-site groundwater plumes contaminated with TCE and Technetium 99 99Tc were identified. Several potential on-site sources that would require additional evaluation were also identified.

Through a series of smaller, more focused investigations, DOE identified and completed projects that continued to remove risks to the public and the environment. These projects include:

The removal of more than 30,500 tons of scrap metal that reduced the opportunity for contamination to migrate through rain and storm water. Excavation of soil with higher concentrations of contamination , reducing off-site migration and potential direct contact to site workers The use of two treatment systems to reduce TCE in the groundwater, thus reducing off-site migration. The removal of approximately 400,000 cubic feet of legacy waste accumulated through years of plant operations and stored at the site

Today, DOE is going after the major source of TCE groundwater contamination. Construction is underway on a treatment system that will vaporize TCE then extract the vapors for safe disposal. This major source is located around a maintenance building on the plant site, where TCE was used for decades to clean equipment.

Other potential sources of contamination to groundwater, creeks, and streams that will be completed in the next 10 years include actions related to buried waste, soil and rubble areas, and surface water.

Successful implementation of the Paducah Environmental Management program depends on the expertise, communication, and coordination of several agencies and organizations. In the next commentary we will discuss the roles of DOE, The Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the Environmental Protection Agency as they implement the laws used to govern the cleanup of the Paducah site.

Joe Tarentino is the Communication Manager for Paducah Remediation Services. Tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. hear more about the roles of the Department of Energy, The Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the Environmental Protection Agency as they implement the laws used to govern the cleanup of the Paducah site.

 

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