Funding Cut for DOE Plutonium Program

President Clinton has signed into law a bill that funds only a portion of the Department of Energy's plan to resolve worker safety and health problems due to radiation exposure at gaseous diffusion plants in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

President Clinton has signed into law a bill that funds only a portion of the Department of Energy's (DOE) plan to resolve worker safety and health problems due to radiation exposure at gaseous diffusion plants in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

The $21 billion Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, which Clinton signed into law Sept. 30, includes $16 million for expanded worker medical monitoring, radiation exposure assessments and accelerated cleanup at the plants in Paducah, Ky., Portsmouth, Ohio, and Oak Ridge, Tenn. The House (327 to 87) and Senate (96 to 3) voted Sept. 27 and Sept. 28, respectively, to approve the H.R. 2605 conference report.

DOE Secretary Bill Richardson announced Sept. 16 that he was seeking a $21.8 million supplemental budget amendment to pay for the plan. Environment, health and safety (EHS) programs would receive $7 million, with $14.8 million for accelerated cleanup. The $16 million in the bill will cover cleanup, but little of the EHS programs.

"I am dismayed that the conference committee did not provide the full budget request made to Congress for Paducah, Portsmouth and Oak Ridge, leaving us short of our commitment to worker health and safety at the gaseous diffusion plants," Richardson said.

Only $1.2 million of the $7 million EHS program is funded. It is possible the rest of the money could come from other areas within the worker safety portion of the agency"s budget, DOE spokeswoman Lisa Cutler said.

If fully funded, the program would have:

  • Provided technical expertise on radiological issues, including identifying and analyzing worker health and safety risks and exposures at the plants, assessing the plants' radiation and contamination control programs and waste practices, and reviewing historical generation and flow of recycled uranium throughout the DOE complex; and
  • Substantially increased medical monitoring to detect potential health hazards to former and current workers at the plants. Medical monitoring is provided for 1,200 former workers a year. The program would be expanded to include 600 additional former workers and about 900 current workers at each site. The program's goal would be to provide an objective, independent and expert evaluation of workers' health status.

Contractor workers at the Paducah uranium enrichment facility were potentially exposed to plutonium and other radioactive contaminants as a result of the Atomic Energy Commission's reuse of uranium previously used to produce plutonium from the 1950s to the 1970s. Radioactive residues are still present in small quantities at the plant.

The supplemental budget amendment does not include potential compensation for workers at the Paducah plant who develop cancer caused by job exposure to radioactive contaminants. It also does not include compensation, announced July 15, for DOE workers who are ill because of exposure to beryllium at nuclear facilities.

See Occupational Hazards' November issue for more information on the DOE investigation. For a complete look at how Paducah workers have been impacted, look for a feature article in OH's December issue. If you're an environmental, health and safety professional who doesn't receive the magazine each month, click on the "Subscriptions" button on the Web site.

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