There is "reason to doubt" the Department of Energy (DOE) can clean up a uranium enrichment plant in Kentucky on schedule and get that work done within its budget, congressional auditors said Tuesday.
A report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative and auditing arm of Congress, states that DOE estimates it will take another 10 years and $1.3 billion to complete its efforts to identify and remove toxic and radioactive contamination at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. That is in addition to $400 million it already has spent.
The report indicates it probably will take much more time and money to clean up the plant, where uranium used to be enriched by the government for bombs and is now enriched by a private company for nuclear power.
"DOE faces many challenges to completing its cleanup as planned," the report stated. It was released to The Associated Press by Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who ordered the audit.
GAO reported that uncertainties about the extent, source and nature of the contamination could affect the department''s timeline and cost estimates. The report also states that the agency''s overall plan falls short of what actually needs to be done.
Even when the planned cleanup has been carried out, billions of dollars and many years will be needed to address areas at the Paducah site that are not in the cleanup plan, the report stated.
It said the plan does not address large amounts of waste and scrap material, some of which poses a risk of an uncontrolled nuclear reaction that could threaten worker safety. The report states that such a reaction could produce a burst of radiation lasting several hours, but it would be localized and would not result in an explosion or release of radioactivity into the atmosphere.
Carolyn L. Huntoon, DOE assistant secretary for environmental management, said in a written response to the GAO that the report does not account for ongoing work and improvements at the site.
Huntoon also criticized the document for failing "to offer specific alternatives or recommendations regarding DOE''s planning assumptions and targets for completing work."
Bunning expects the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to hold a hearing on the report, possibly as soon as next week.
by Todd Nighswonger