Tuesday, 07 23, 2013
Allison Gardner Martin
Attorney General Jack Conway today met with the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to discuss the future of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, efforts to clean up the nuclear material from the site, and how to preserve the jobs at the plant that come from enriching uranium.
The DOE owns the plant, but it is currently operated by USEC, Inc. USEC has experienced financial difficulty and its economic future is in question. USEC announced in May that it was ending uranium enrichment at the plant in June because it could not reach a deal with its landlord, the DOE. The plant, located 10 miles outside Paducah, employs 1,100 people.
Observers are concerned that the plant may be shuttered, the jobs lost, and that funds are not available to safely clean up and decontaminate the site.
"I expressed my concerns to senior energy department officials that Kentucky is tired of bearing the brunt of costs associated with new environmental policies curbing the use of coal, and now when it is the federal government's responsibility to clean up an environmental mess here in the Commonwealth, this administration must not turn its back on the environment and the people of Kentucky. That's unacceptable, and I won't stand idly by and let that happen," General Conway said.
General Conway met with Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman today, who has been designated the point person on the Paducah plant by the DOE. General Conway also met with Dave Huizenga, the DOE project coordinator for the Paducah plant. General Conway asked Dep. Sec. Poneman to increase funding for cleanup at the site over the next several budget cycles. Currently, $142 million per year is allocated in the federal budget to clean up the superfund site. Dep. Sec. Poneman reported to General Conway that an additional $35 million will be requested in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget – bringing total funding for cleanup to $177 million. General Conway also asked officials to provide an accounting record of how the current $142 million per year for cleanup has been spent. Officials agreed to provide that information to General Conway.
The DOE has a responsibility through a Federal Facilities Agreement with the Commonwealth of Kentucky to meet certain deadlines in cleaning up contamination at the site. General Conway believes if the cleanup deadlines are not completed within the outlined timeframes, the federal government would be violating its legal agreement with the Commonwealth.
General Conway also talked with senior energy officials about residents' concerns about a cleanup plan that may consist of constructing a containment cell on the current site to secure the contaminated waste. Residents are concerned that if this option is pursued, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant property could become a dumping ground for nuclear waste from other states. Dep. Sec. Poneman assured General Conway that if this option is pursued, only waste from Paducah can or will be deposited in the contamination containment cell.
General Conway's visit follows on the heels of Gov. Steve Beshear's talks with Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz. Gov. Beshear and General Conway both expressed to officials that offers to reopen or retool the plant with a new operator must be expedited in order to preserve jobs and cut down on cleanup costs. Both state leaders also expressed that the plant should remain open during the cleanup process.
"We are presenting a united front on behalf of Western Kentucky. Former Vice President Alben Barkley helped bring this plant to Paducah, and Paducah has stood by the federal government for 60 years, helping produce energy for this country. It's time now for the United States Government to stand by the people of Paducah and do what's right," General Conway said.