FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 10, 2000
NEWS MEDIA CONTACT:
Walter Perry, 865/576-0885
Natalie Wymer, 202/586-4940
Energy Department Issues Final Paducah Safety and Health Investigation Report
Historic Operational Practices Outlined
The final report from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) investigation of past environment, safety and health practices at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Western Kentucky was released today. It discusses the plant's operations from 1952 to 1990. It is the second phase of an independent and comprehensive investigation ordered by Secretary Bill Richardson last August.
"This report, as we suspected, tells us that the Paducah site operated in a climate of secrecy, with a strong sense of national need, and a lack of understanding of a number of environment, safety and health hazards and risks," said Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safey and Health. "The findings of this investigation, together with similar investigations at the Portsmouth and Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plants, will be used to inform the Clinton/Gore Administration's legislative efforts to compensate workers who have become ill because of workplace exposures."
According to the report, safety and health procedures at the Paducah plant were in place and were generally consistent with the requirements at the time -- although many of these procedures and controls would not meet today's more stringent requirements. The team concluded, however, that a number of these safety and health procedures were not followed on a regular basis. In addition, the report indicates that some management decisions caused worker radiation exposures to be higher than necessary, and that a number of workers were exposed to hazards that were not adequately monitored or understood. The investigative team also found information that indicates that several experiments on plant personnel were conducted in the 1950s in an effort to understand the efficiency of worker protection systems and health effects of exposure to radioactive materials. Such experiments would not be permitted under current federal standards.
Records demonstrate that certain work locations and activities posed higher exposure risks to radiological and chemical hazards, such as the production processes that involved individual exposure to transuranic elements in handling feed production ash and in uranium, neptunium and technetium recovery operations. The report notes that communication to workers about the types of radiation and chemical hazards found in their working environment was generally inadequate. Finally, environmental practices that were acceptable at the time have resulted in adverse impacts to the soil and water both on and off the plant property. Federal and state environmental laws passed in the 1970s and 1980s have since prohibited many practices used in the early years of plant operation. An enforceable agreement has since been established with the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the Environmental Protection Agency to direct the cleanup of waste, and soil and groundwater contamination.
The report provides important background information to support the Administration's worker compensation proposals. The information also will be used in ongoing assessments of worker exposures to specific chemical and radioactive materials, and the health effects of those exposures. The ongoing medical surveillance of current and former workers will also benefit from the information learned. Results also will assist DOE in a clearer understanding of worker exposures associated with materials throughout the nuclear weapons complex.
The first of the two-part Paducah investigation, released last October, focused on current environmental and safety risks and practices of the DOE's cleanup work. A corrective action plan was developed to address each of the findings in the report. Additionally, Secretary Richardson recently announced a substantial new funding commitment for cleanup, waste management and worker health initiatives, doubling the investment at the Paducah site. Uranium-enrichment activities at the site are now operated by the United State Enrichment Corporation and are regulated and overseen by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The investigation team completing this report included 12 permanent DOE employees from the Office of Oversight and 11 technical advisors. None of the team members has an involvement in past operational activities at the plant or a special interest in the outcome of this investigation. The Office of Oversight reports directly to Dr. Michaels.
A public meeting to review the report's results will be held in Paducah on February 23.
Copies of the report are available on the Energy Department's web site at the links below. The report can be reviewed at the Department's Environmental Information Center, 175 Freedom Boulevard, Kevil, Ky., phone 270/462-4564; and at the Paducah Public Library, 555 Washington Street, Paducah.
- DOE -
Phase II Independent Investigation of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant