Agency sued over cleanup at nuclear plant
By JAMES MALONE email@example.com The Courier-Journal
Three families living near the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant have filed a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court that asks a judge to set aside two orders the Kentucky Natural Resources Cabinet signed with the U.S. Department of Energy to resolve a number of hazardous-waste violations at the 50-year-old uranium-enrichment plant.
Signed Oct.2, the orders called for the federal government to pay a $1million fine to resolve state citations for illegal disposal and storage of hazardous waste in three landfills, several unpermitted storage areas, and in 5,100 drums.
"We basically thought they were giving the cleanup away," said Ronald Lamb, one of the plaintiffs and a businessman who lives in rural Kevil, near the plant. "The state made a deal behind closed doors and let them off the hook."
Kerry Holt, a state spokeswoman, said the cabinet had not seen the lawsuit filed yesterday and had no comment on it.
Joe Davis, an Energy Department spokesman in Washington, said the federal agency also had no comment because it hadn't seen the lawsuit. Davis said the agency reached an agreement with Kentucky and wants to move forward with cleaning up the greatest risks at the plant.
Lamb and two other people, Al Puckett of Kevil and Mark Donham of Brookport, Ill., allege that the so-called "agreed orders" were unconstitutional and that the releases of hazardous waste into the environment might harm their properties.
They contend that the orders: impose a "consultation process" that allows the Energy Department to defer taking action; allow the department to revise conditions for managing 34,000 cylinders at the plant containing depleted uranium; allow the department to claim financial inability to comply with state environmental laws and regulations; and allow the closure of sanitary landfills containing hazardous waste.
A key provision in the agreement is that responsibility falls on the cabinet to prove with substantial evidence that the Energy Department is the source of groundwater pollutants, rather than in the past when the government has acknowledged it was the source of contaminants, said Tom FitzGerald, a public-interest attorney who is representing the plaintiffs and is director of the Kentucky Resources Council environmental group.
FitzGerald said he had never seen some of the provisions and concessions to a waste generator that Kentucky offered the Energy Department.
He said he didn't know how the lawsuit might affect the cleanup.
"There needs to be a whole lot more daylight ... on the agreement," FitzGerald said. "There was no public notice and no public comment taken on it."
By signing the orders, Kentucky regulators cleared the way for about $30million in additional federal money to be allocated to complete most of the Paducah cleanup by 2019.
Years of Cold War weapons production at the Paducah plant resulted in the discharge of solvents, heavy metals and radioactive isotopes into the air, soil and water around the plant.
The cleanup, begun a decade ago, is expected to cost more than $5billion.
Kentucky, meantime, is competing with Ohio for a new uranium-enrichment plant using a different technology. The plant is projected to cost about $1.5billion and will be built by the United States Enrichment Corp., which leases the Paducah plant from the federal government to produce fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.