As the US Congress prepares for a battle over nuclear testing, in Paducah, Kentucky, workers at a uranium plant are battling its former operators after they recently discovered radioactive black ooze seeping from the ground close to the plant.
The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, operated for years by the nuclear weapons manufacturing companies Martin-Marietta and Lockheed Martin, produced enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, Navy submarines and commercial power plants for 47 years. The plant is owned by the Department of Energy, which subcontracted it to Martin Marietta in 1984, and then to Lockheed-Martin in 1995 when Martin-Marietta and Lockheed merged.
The chance discovery of the ooze by plant workers in July led to the uncovering of a burial ground for radioactive debris just north of the plant. The waste was barely hidden under a thin layer of soil in a grassy lot, and was found by the workers when they noticed a tar-like substance in the tracks left by the truck.
The findings appear to confirm serious allegations already made against Lockheed-Martin and Martin-Marietta in a lawsuit filed by the workers and by the Natural Resources Defense Council this past June. The suit accuses the companies of making false statements and claims to the Department of Energy about the plant’s health, safety and environmental record. It says that contaminated waste streamed out of the plant for years, exposing workers to dangerous levels of radiation. Some was allegedly dumped in woods and abandoned buildings in a nearby state wildlife area.
In the latest scare, a couple living about three miles from the plant last week discovered three barrels buried in their back yard. A Department of Emergency Services worker tested the barrels with a Geiger counter and found high levels of contamination on the drums and on the hands and shoes of Jim Hutto, owner of the house. The barrels are now being tested further.
- Terri Hutto, wife of Jim Hutto, who recently discovered barrels in his back yard that might contain radioactive waste. They live three miles from the plant.
- Ronnie Lamb, lifetime resident of Kevil, Kentucky and member of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. He lives two miles from the plant, and became an environmental activist after he and his family became ill from water contamination. His father died of cancer a few years ago, and he and his mother suffer from ongoing health problems that may be related to the plant.
- David Adelman, Project Attorney at the Nuclear Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the parties in the lawsuit.
- Robert Poe, Assistant Manager for Environmental Safety and Health for the Department of Energy in Oakridge, Tennessee. This office oversees Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Virginia.
- Mark Donham, Co-chair of the Federal Advisory Committee for the plant. They meet monthly and review DOE documents on cleanup. He lives 15 miles from the site.
- Al Tuckett, former employee and Union Steward at the plant.