Centrus Part 3: The lawsuits for Paducah enrichment site

The simple fact is that the science behind cancer and radiation was not really getting scientific proof until the 1980s and 1990s. Safety on worksites was not a big concern, either. There was some proof, which is why some of the lawsuits were able to go forward in the early 1980s. The people working at the plant were just looking for a job. The people living around the plant did not sign up for the contamination they were exposed to in both the soil and the water. The conditions that caused all this grief and expense carried on till the close of the plant. Some of this carried on for 2 decades under USEC, which would become Centrus.

The number of people affected

In 2000, the Senate Appropriations Committee held hearings about what was happening at Paducah. In the Senate hearings, it was said that 15,000 former workers and 5,500 workers that were there in 2000 were “put in harm’s way”. Documents were uncovered from the 1950s that the people in charge of the plant knew about the dangers that were faced by all those workers. It was even found that the Department of Energy tried to hide some of the documentation from others. This was not just affecting Paducah, but those 20,000 workers were exposed to many risks because of that.

For those who lived around the plant, there were other dangers and the extent may still not be known. There was a five acre site known as Drum Mountain which held a 35 foot high mountain of crushed drums. The rain that came down all those years caused the radioactive material to end up in the ground and then in the water. Plant discharges were sent to ditches. Tests eventually ended up getting ran on wells and other sources of groundwater. It was all contaminated with radiation.

The Department of Energy and other parts of the government have the overall responsibility to how these people were affected. There were three companies that managed the site for the government. Union Carbide, Martin Marietta, and USEC/Centrus still has some of the blame for not maintaining the site any better than they did. Employees of the plant talked with members of Congress and told them what the management of these companies were like. That caused added stress to a bad situation.

History of lawsuits

A former employee, Joe Harding, died from medical issues related to the contamination of the plant. His family sued and his wife settled. She received $12,000.

In 1997, a group of the homeowners around the plant sued multiple companies involved in the running of operations. They sued over the contamination, people getting sick and loss of property value. The lawsuit was settled in 2010 for $1.75 million. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had to override U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley. McKinley had said that there was no proof that there was enough contamination to pose a health risk.

There were many other lawsuits. Some made it and some were dismissed. One of the reasons, more valid than Judge McKinley’s, is a law known as the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act. It covers the amount of liability and how claims are handled. It doesn’t stop all lawsuits, but it makes the situation more manageable for the civilian side of the nuclear industry.

The next article will cover the clean up of the plant.


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