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Environmental cleanup at DOE Paducah Site 30 years later

An aerial view of the U.S. Department of Energy's Paducah Site.
An aerial view of the U.S. Department of Energy's Paducah Site.(U.S. Department of Energy)
Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 4:18 PM CDT
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PADUCAH, Ky. (KFVS) - The U.S. Department of Energy gave an update on the expanded cleanup and deactivation at the Paducah Site.

For 60 years, the Paducah Site saw uranium operations and support activities.

The DOE established the Environmental Management program in 1989 to “address contamination created by activities related to the Manhattan Project and the Cold War era.”

Since then, the DOE said the Paducah Site has treated 4.6 billion gallons of groundwater, removed more than 8,000 gallons of trichloroethylene from groundwater and soils, disposed 7.8 million cubic feet of waste, removed 66 million pounds of scrap metal from storage yards and converted more than 52,500 metric tons of depleted uranium hexafluoride into a more stable form for potential reuse or disposal.

DOE Paducah Site infrastructure support contractor Swift & Stanley Inc. works with local...
DOE Paducah Site infrastructure support contractor Swift & Stanley Inc. works with local subcontractor Beltline Electric to complete the tie-in of the new bypass power distribution system into the TVA electrical substation.(Photo courtesy of Dylan Nichols/DOE)

Enrichment operations stopped at the Paducah Site in 2013 and the DOE was able to expand its cleanup and deactivation activities.

Recently, that included the removal of approximately 2 million pounds of an ozone-depleting refrigerant that was used in the site’s four process buildings.

DOE also deactivated the C-400 Cleaning Building.

In addition, the DOE said workers are taking steps to deactivate the C-333 Process Building, a facility that is more than 80-feet high and covers about 25 acres on each floor, larger than 20 football fields.

Paducah Site worker Brandon Hayden signals a crane operator to lower a motor from the C-333...
Paducah Site worker Brandon Hayden signals a crane operator to lower a motor from the C-333 Process Building's cell floor to the truck alley for removal. The work was done to support the future construction of a Material Sizing Area in the building, which will be used to downsize large components for disposal.(Photo courtesy of Dylan Nichols/DOE)

When it was operational, the Paducah Site required infrastructure similar to a small city with its own water treatment plant, fire department, security force, post office, medical facility and sewage treatment plant.

Since the plant stopped uranium enrichment, DOE said the needs at the site have changed.

According to DOE, Paducah previously maintained four electrical switchyards, supporting up to 3,000 megawatts of power per hour. They said that is enough energy to power a city as large as Nashville, Tenn.

Currently, it only uses about 12 megawatts per hour.

The reduced need for electricity prompted the construction of a new electrical substation and power distribution system operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The DOE said the substation now carries the power load for the entire site, resulting in cost and energy savings.

“It will take many years before we complete our ultimate mission in Paducah,” said Jennifer Woodard, DOE’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Site Office Paducah Site Lead. “The Department is taking a systematic approach to position the site to have the correct infrastructure while continuing the environmental cleanup and deactivation activities.”

DOE’s strategic plan for the site also includes the continuation of conversion of depleted uranium into a safer oxide form.

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