PADUCAH, Ky. – Since the inception of the EM program in 1989, the Paducah Site has made notable achievements in groundwater cleanup, waste removal, and other work advancing its environmental cleanup mission following more than 60 years of uranium enrichment operations and support activities.
Since 1989, the site has treated 4.6 billion gallons of groundwater, removed over 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 over 52,500 metric tons of depleted uranium hexafluoride into a more stable form for potential reuse or disposal.
Enrichment operations at Paducah ceased in 2013, paving the way for EM to expand cleanup and deactivation activities. Recent progress includes the removal of approximately 2 million pounds of an ozone-depleting refrigerant used in the site’s four process buildings.
EM also recently deactivated the C-400 Cleaning Building, an important step towards reaching an agreement with environmental regulators on the final actions required for addressing contamination within the city block surrounding the building.
“So much has changed since the plant’s operations ceased nearly a decade ago,” said Jennifer Woodard, EM’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office Paducah site lead. “Our strategic approach had to evolve to incorporate cleanup scope resulting from the return of the leased uranium enrichment facilities, recognize and adjust the utility and infrastructure needs for the entire site, and understand the surveillance and maintenance cost impacts related to the returned facilities.”
Workers are also 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. Steps taken include removing hazardous materials and equipment.
“Over the next several years, we have plans in place to make substantial progress at the C-400 Complex city block and the deactivation of the C-333 Process Building, which will bring us closer to achieving our long-term cleanup goals,” Woodard said.
When operational, the site required infrastructure similar to that of a small city, with its own water treatment plant, fire department, security force, post office, medical facility, and sewage treatment plant. Since the plant ceased uranium enrichment, the needs at the site have changed.
Paducah previously maintained four electrical switchyards, supporting up to 3,000 megawatts of power per hour. This is enough energy to power a city as large as Nashville. Currently, the site’s cleanup mission 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 substation now carries the power load for the entire site. This change will result in significant cost and energy savings in the coming years.
Water usage at the site has also changed since a majority of the site’s water was used as a coolant for the uranium enrichment process. Today, the site requires approximately 1.7 to 2.5 million gallons per day. When the plant was supporting the nation’s power needs, water usage could reach as high as 30 million gallons per day. Steps to replace two raw water pumps with ones that will operate using about 50% less power, resulting in additional energy cost savings, is currently underway.
“It will take many years before we complete our ultimate mission in Paducah,” Woodard said. “The Department is taking a systematic approach to position the site to have the correct infrastructure while continuing the environmental cleanup and deactivation activities.”
Deactivation and environmental remediation work continues to be a priority for leaders at the site. The advancements made in cleanup there lay the groundwork for future economic development in the region.
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