PADUCAH, Ky. – A broken baler has been fixed and the cleanup of “drum mountain” has resumed at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
“Drum Mountain” is the nickname for a massive pile of discarded and rusting drums once used to store depleted uranium tetra-fluoride at the plant. Officials think they are a major source of groundwater contamination. The removal work began June 23, with Energy Department officials present. The occasion was the first day of an announced 10-year project to clean up the most obvious of the environmental problems at the 47-year-old facility.
The process bogged down three weeks ago after only a few drums from the pile, which covers an area 120 feet by 200 feet, had been dumped onto a conveyor belt. At the time, officials said there were only minor problems that would easily be corrected.
The plan was for the conveyor to carry the 85,000 rusted drums to a crusher and then into a baler. The bales were then to be put in special containers for shipment to a hazardous-waste burial site in Utah.
The troubled baler worked perfectly on Wednesday.
“It put out 22 bales in 15 minutes,” said Greg Cook, spokesman for Bechtel Jacobs Co., the contractor hired by the U.S. Department of Energy to do the work. By the end of the day, it had produced about 60 bales, three times the number produced over the past three weeks.
“The engineers think they’ve found the problem,” Cook said. “But we want to keep running it for a couple of days to make sure they are right.”
Cook said crush-and-bale cleanup work was being done Wednesday in “short spurts” because of the heat. He said workers are wearing protective clothing and respirators, which require frequent breaks in hot weather.
“It has been frustrating,” Cook said. “Everyone is surprised we’re having a baler problem. When we started, they thought there might be problems with the shredder, but we haven’t had a problem with that.”
The removal of drum mountain, one of the most visible signs of pollution at the plant where uranium is enriched into nuclear fuel, is costing $7 million. Department of Energy officials have promised the work would be completed by the end of the year.
The U.S. General Accounting Office recently said that about $124 million would be needed every year of the next decade just to tackle the specified problems.