Centrus Part 5: The dirty shutdown of the Paducah plant

In Parts 2,3, and 4, we explored the nightmare that is the Paducah Department of Energy nuclear enrichment plant and how it was run. At the time of the shut down, it was the primary, if only, working enrichment plant for what would become Centrus Energy. The DOE and what was then USEC did a shut down. This is the government agency that has the people who know how to run a plant like this and the company that was spun off the DOE to handle civilian uranium enrichment. The shut down should have been professional and easy. What actually occurred was a nightmare that taxpayers will pay for and put the people of Kentucky in danger.

A dirty shutdown

Looking through the government files, there does not seem to be any problems from when they shut down the enrichment facility. Watchdogs at the time did see a problem. USEC and the DOE ran the facility until the power was shut off at the contracted time by TVA. That caused the uranium to end up caking inside the facility. This effect made the clean up even more expensive, since a proper shut down was not performed.

The University of Chicago Atomic Age newsletter had this to say.

Disaster is about to strike in western Kentucky, a full-blown nuclear catastrophe involving hundreds of tons of enriched uranium tainted with plutonium, technetium, arsenic, beryllium and a toxic chemical brew. But this nuke calamity will be no fluke. It’s been foreseen, planned, even programmed, the result of an atomic extortion game played out between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the most failed American experiment in privatization, the company that has run the Paducah plant into the poisoned ground, USEC Inc

A little later in the newsletter, they said this.

The gaseous diffusion plant at Oak Ridge, TN, was powered-down dirty in 1985, in a safer situation because the Oak Ridge plant did not have near the level of transuranic contaminants found at Paducah. The Oak Ridge catastrophe left a poisonous site that still awaits cleanup a quarter-century later, and an echo chamber of political promises that such a stupid move would never be made again. But that was before the privatization of USEC.”

After the shutdown

The problems did not end with the shut down. On top of a tornado that went through the area, a reportable incident for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission happened. It was an accident caused by the failure of a controller program. Here is what was reported.

“At 1409 hours [CDT] on 6/28/2013, the Plant Shift Superintendent was notified of an unplanned contamination event that occurred in the C-710 Laboratory building. The controller program for the sample cylinder wash system in room #21 failed, causing supply water to flow out of the system. The water leaked through the floor into room B-23, which is located in the basement, and spread contamination onto the floor and a table. The area of the known water leak was immediately posted as a contamination area. Chemical Operations decontaminated the area that was initially contaminated by the water leak at 1730 hours on 6/28/2013. During follow-up investigative surveys conducted by Health Physics, additional contamination was discovered in other areas of the room causing the entire room to be posted as a contamination area (CA). It was initially thought that the additional contamination which was found was legacy contamination unrelated to the water leak; however, based on further investigation and HP survey results [on 7/1/13], it appears that contamination found elsewhere in the room also came from the water leak event. All contamination related to this event was not cleaned up within 24 hours and the room remains restricted at this time.“

On top of the contamination issues, there was also a lawsuit that occurred between Centrus and the DOE. The lawsuit had some wins for both sides. Paducah was a nightmare from the word go. The next article will get into the new CEO Daniel Poneman.


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