Australian news, and some related international items

Nuclear waste in Paducah, Kentucky poses extra threat to region facing historic flooding

Nuclear waste in Paducah, Kentucky poses extra threat to region facing historic flooding, Southerly By For over half a century, the plant was Paducah’s main employer, providing up to 7,000 jobs in a place where nearly a quarter of people now live in poverty. But poor working conditions and unregulated waste disposal also harmed Paducah residents. The legacy of these problems have cost the town and taxpayers. Despite multiple recommendations from a watchdog government agency, the Department of Energy is decades behind schedule on cleanup efforts.

Some experts say the federal government doesn’t know the full cost or scope of what cleaning them up will entail, and that becomes more complicated with more frequent extreme weather.

It’s a problem Superfund sites — and especially nuclear waste sites — around the country face. ……

1999 investigation by The Washington Post revealed the federal government used the plant to illegally recycle over 103,000 tons of used nuclear reactor fuel containing plutonium and other transuranics — man-made heavy metals derived from splitting atoms. The same year, workers filed a $10 billion class action lawsuit against three federal government contractors that led to the passage of a federal law intended to compensate current and former employees (or their survivors) for exposure to cancer-causing radiation. ……

While there is no official estimation of how much contaminated material remains, at least 400 buildings — and everything inside them — still need to be decontaminated and demolished at the Paducah site. ……

cleanup isn’t expected to be completed until 2065, and the EPA has said it could take even longer because of the lack of knowledge about sources of contamination and the vast size of the facility. The waste at Paducah includes the gaseous diffusion plant, buried radioactive disposal sites, and waste leftover from neighboring nuclear sites in Ohio and Tennessee. It also includes over 52,000 cylinders of uranium hexafluoride, or spent uranium fuel, much of it from Oak Ridge. ……

The Paducah cleanup is now being managed by Four Rivers Nuclear Partnership, a conglomeration of companies hired by the DOE for soil and groundwater remediation. One of them is Jacobs Engineering, a contractor that was sued for exposing hundreds of workers to toxic substances during cleanup of the nation’s largest coal ash spill in Tennessee; more than 40 have died. At least three other nuclear sites — Oak Ridge, Hanford in Washington, and Savannah River in South Carolina — have also contracted with Jacobs. (Jacobs Engineering declined an interview for this story.)……

n February, Paducah put up its floodgates, families stacked sandbags, and the bridge over the Ohio River to Illinois closed as floodwaters as rains drowned the region. According to local news stations, highway crews reported so much water they had trouble setting up warning signs. Former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin declared a statewide emergency due to heavy rainfall and flooding.

The Ohio River, three miles north of the Paducah plant, had record flooding in 2018 and 2019…….

Instead of focusing on cleanup plans, some state lawmakers and federal agencies are loosening regulations on hazardous sites. In 2017, Kentucky passed a bill lifting a nuclear moratorium, a move that some hope will turn the site into a research facility or nuclear reactor; the law loosens the requirements for toxic waste management. Last year, the DOE also moved to relax restrictions on the disposal and abandonment of radioactive waste…….

June 8, 2020 - Posted by | General News

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