Statement of Kentucky Governor Paul Patton before the
Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Water

October 26, 1999

Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to highlight the ongoing environmental concerns in around the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and to ask that this committee work with the political leadership of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to ensure that the federal government honors its moral obligation and contractual commitment to cleanup the contamination in that area by the year 2010.

The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant was opened in 1952 and has been in operation since that time.   It initially processed nuclear materials for the military, but in the mid 1960s, its mission shifted to the commercial focus of enriching uranium for use in nuclear reactors.  The 800 acre plant is located on approximately 3400 acres of federal land about three miles south of the Ohio River and twelve miles west of Paducah, and has been the largest employer in the area since the 1950s.

From an economic standpoint, the plant has been good for Paducah.  It has provided many, good-paying jobs to the region.  It has been a stable force in the local economy.   And in turn, McCracken County and the City of Paducah have been good to the federal government.  They have accepted the uranium enrichment complex in their region and have valued it as an employer.  Paducah has proven itself to be a city that is tolerant of this activity, and its population has become educated on the uranium enrichment process and has learned to separate legitimate concerns from exaggerated fears.   Paducah has stood well by the federal government in this effort.

Now it is time for the federal government to do right by Paducah.

When the allegations contained in the federal whistleblower lawsuits first began to draw national attention in August, I asked my personal staff, led by Jack Conway, to work with our cabinets in Kentucky State Government and report to me on whether the Commonwealth had been negligent in the past or whether we were currently doing all we could to protect public health and the environment in the area.  Like Senators McConnell and Bunning, and Congressman Whitfield, I personally toured the site in August and spent time with some of the workers to see if they felt comfortable with the safety procedures that are in place at the plant.  While visiting with the workers, I heard that, by and large, they felt well trained for the materials they handle, and had general confidence in the safety procedures currently in place at the facility.  Some expressed concerns about what they had heard of past practices, but they felt generally positive about current safety. 

After consulting with the Kentucky state agencies responsible for monitoring the environment and public health, I concluded that Kentucky is doing all we can presently do to contain threats to public health and all we can presently do to monitor compliance with accepted environmental practices -- although we have been prevented by the federal government from monitoring these activities like we would have had this operation been conducted by a non-governmental entity.  In August 1999, our cabinets established toll free numbers to answer citizens’ questions and offered a voluntary well-testing program for any nearby resident who wished to have their water tested.  This was in addition to the radiation monitoring and control program the Commonwealth already had in place outside the facility fence.

Despite the fact that I have seen no imminent threat to public health in the region, my administration’s efforts have led me to one obvious and inescapable conclusion.  The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant site is one of the most environmentally contaminated in the South, and the federal government is not devoting the necessary funds to meet its obligation to clean it up.  And although there is no immediate threat, the nature of the environmental threat is growing and could eventually impact public health.

In 1994, this site was placed on the National Priorities list under the Superfund legislation as one of the most contaminated sites in the country.  Pursuant to that designation, our Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet entered into a tripartite Federal Facilities Agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the USEPA, whereby the DOE agreed to fund and complete the cleanup of the site by the year 2010.  This agreement was finally signed in 1998 and contains significant milestones to be achieved along the path to completion of the cleanup process.  We wanted, and felt it would be reasonable to have this work done by 2007.  Based on the current rate of progress, it won’t be cleaned up in our lifetime.

Working together, these three agencies have identified many areas that must be remediated in order to complete the cleanup.  I will not go into detail on all of the items to be addressed, but I feel the subcommittee should hear a little about some of the major concerns.

First, the area known as “Drum Mountain” is a major concern.  Drum Mountain (a portion of which is blown up in the photo behind me) is five acres of radioactively contaminated waste materials and scrap metal contained and accumulated on-site since the 1950s.   It constitutes a significant environmental hazard because dispersion and surface water runoff contribute to contamination of the area.  Moreover, our state agencies suspect that uncharacterized waste materials are disposed of beneath Drum Mountain and that its seepage and these waste materials are contributing to the contamination of the migrating groundwater plumes.

Second, the groundwater plumes, which I just mentioned, are a source of significant concern.   These plumes contaminate an underground aquifer of 60-110 feet in depth and are migrating toward the Ohio River in a northwesterly and northeasterly direction.  In its recent Phase I investigative report on Paducah, DOE’s investigative team admitted that they do not know how far the plume has traveled.  Additionally, DOE is having difficulty stopping the advance of the plume with its pumping and treatment because it cannot fully identify the source of the contamination.  Our agencies believe that the plumes have reached the Ohio River and are dispersing radioactive Technetium –99 into the river.

Third, surface water runoff and groundwater migration have led to the detectable contamination of Technetium-99, PCBs and trace amounts of transuranics in Little and Big Bayou Creeks, which are tributaries of the Ohio.  This contamination must be remediated.

Fourth, the North-South Diversion Ditch, which has tested positive for higher than expected amounts of transuranics such as plutonium and neptunium, must be addressed. At present, we understand that workers at Paducah were not even warned that this ditch was contaminated with tranuranics.  It sits exposed and is not contained in any manner.  This ditch is adjacent to the major buildings on site suspected of transuranic contamination, and in addition to the ditch, these buildings must be cleaned up and decommissioned.

Fifth, all solid and hazardous waste landfills and disposal areas must be identified and characterized by DOE.  The Commonwealth has identified to DOE over 200 potential hazardous and solid waste disposal areas on site – about three-fourths of which DOE has failed to fully identify and characterize.  In addition, DOE must characterize and remove any radioactive materials contained at two landfills that have been seeping radioactive material.

Sixth, DOE must expeditiously address the drums and cylinders currently in outdoor storage.  At present, DOE has over 8000 drums of low-level radioactive waste stored outdoors in containers not designed for long-term storage.  Also, although not contained as a milestone in the Federal Facility Agreement, DOE maintains over 37,000 cylinders (over 400,000 metric tons) of depleted Uranium on site.  This material must be converted to a more stable form before it is either removed or properly stored.

As you can see from my brief and non-inclusive list of some of the significant environmental hazards, Paducah is a site that demands the immediate attention of the DOE and the federal government.

As I have learned more about the nature of the environmental hazards at the Paducah site, I have become most alarmed not by the extent of the contamination (although it is alarming) – but by the fact that the DOE does not currently have, nor does it plan to request in the near future, sufficient funds to address these environmental concerns.

Mr. Chairman, the people of Paducah and Kentucky deserve better than that.

Until very recently, the DOE has estimated that it would take a little over $700 million to complete the cleanup by 2012 – and has planned budget requests totaling only $630 million through fiscal year 2010.  These projected funding figures anticipated huge funding increases beginning in 2007 – despite the fact that the environmental and site management at Paducah has been funded at approximately $38 million per year over the last several years.  Moreover, since 1995, environmental funding at Paducah has been steadily declining.

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, in the Paducah Phase I report released by DOE last week, their investigative team basically admitted two critical facts.  First, it admitted that the current cleanup schedule is unrealistic based on current funding levels – and that at current levels, the cleanup cannot be completed before even 2020.   Second, DOE’s investigative team admitted DOE’s estimated cleanup costs are based on faulty assumptions.  In particular, the report reveals that the DOE’s future funding numbers are based on proposed savings through recycling of hazardous scrap metal, limiting the number of remedial investigations despite the extent of the problem, capping all waste material found on-site (instead of removing it) and replacing the current pump and treat water remediation with an untested alternative.  The report goes on to say that cost savings such as these have never been previously demonstrated.

Mr. Chairman, it is time for the Department of Energy to reassess the cost of this cleanup and to be forthcoming about the true projected costs.

When I first began to understand the magnitude of this under-commitment of funds, I asked our cabinets and agencies to independently assess what they believed the cleanup would actually cost.   After working through the milestones contained in the agreement, Kentucky State Government now believes that in order to complete the environmental cleanup at Paducah by the year 2010, the cost will be closer to $1.37 billion.  If you factor in the funds necessary for the conversion of the depleted uranium in the exposed cylinders and final assessment and management costs, the figure rises to $1.9 billion.  I have provided the subcommittee with attachments to my written statement that elaborate upon the Commonwealth’s assumptions and that show where we differ from those of DOE.   

At present, the DOE environmental and site management activities at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant are funded from the Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund (D&D Fund) contained with the DOEs Environmental Management Budget.  This fund is initially allocated to DOE’s Oak Ridge Facility for the cleanup activities at Oak Ridge, Paducah and Portsmouth.  Total allocations from this fund for fiscal year 1999 were about $220 million – of which Paducah received about $36 million.  We believe this is not a rational division of the $220 million, especially in light of the fact that this $36 million is largely used for ongoing site management activities, with only about $11 million per year going to actual environmental remediation.

Thus, as you can plainly see, DOE last year spent about $11 million on what is approximately a $1.4 billion problem over the next 10 years.  Members of the committee, that is not in even in the ballpark of what is necessary. 

Moreover, I find it particularly upsetting that the D&D fund takes in about $610 million per year in receipts from both general revenues and a special federal surcharge on power companies that use nuclear fuel.  The D&D fund has a positive balance on paper of over $1.5 billion and its excess yearly revenues are used for other budgetary priorities.

Members of the subcommittee, I think that is unfair and I think it breaks a fundamental compact with the communities that have accepted these three facilities.  [I am today delivering to the committee a letter signed by Governors Taft, Sundquist and myself asking the U.S. Congress to restore these dedicated receipts to their intended purposes of cleaning up the uranium enrichment sites.]

Mr. Chairman, as I have discussed with you previously, I am asking the U.S. Congress, the DOE, OMB and the White House to dedicate at minimum an additional $100 million per year to the cleanup at Paducah.  Only a figure of this magnitude can get us moving toward completing the cleanup by 2010 – as the Federal Facilities Agreement mandates.  Additionally, I am asking that the DOE not proceed on a milestone by year basis, but that they begin remediating the most pressing priorities immediately and simultaneously.   The people of Paducah and Kentucky deserve at least this.

I have already informed the administration that if they are going to be an environmental administration in a regulatory fashion, passing the cost along to the customers of private companies, then they must also be an environmental administration when a matter of federal financial responsibility arises.  I have, in the strongest terms, urged the administration to ask for enough money to do this job.  If they do, I ask the Congress to approve it.   If they don’t, I ask the Congress to increase the appropriation sufficiently to do the job.  I call upon the Congress to find a way to work with the DOE to fully fund the D&D program for its intended purposes and to make certain that funds are available to complete the cleanup at Paducah by 2010.  Completing this obligation of the federal government to the people of Paducah is your responsibility as well.  I stand ready to work with our congressional delegation and the political leadership of both parties to help make certain this obligation is met.

As a result of the signing of the Federal Facilities Agreement, the Commonwealth has several legal means at its disposal to enforce this cleanup agreement, including mediation and possible subsequent legal action.  If current funding levels are maintained, the Commonwealth believes that DOE will be in default on this agreement as early as fiscal year 2001.   Let me assure this subcommittee and the people of Paducah and Kentucky that I will continue my efforts on this issue and that our administration will use every legal means at its disposal to make certain these obligations of the federal government are met.   The citizens of Kentucky who have supported this facility for over 45 years deserve no less.

I would like to thank the chairman and members of the subcommittee for the opportunity to appear before you today, and I would be happy to entertain any questions.