It appears as though safety at the Paducah, Ky., uranium enrichment complex is being questioned once again.
More than 1,600 tons of nuclear weapons parts are scattered around the Energy Department's complex, possibly posing a risk of exposure to workers, according to excerpts of a memo published on Friday.
The Washington Post obtained a memo written by Raymond G. Carroll, a senior manager at the Paducah Plant since 1992, that was sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
In it, Carroll said another plant official told him he was worried about the bomb parts after hearing of their existence from a Department of Energy (DOE) official.
Some bomb parts are stored in above-ground shelters and could pose a risk of exposure or even an accidental nuclear reaction at the plant, if the components are contaminated with radioactive substances, such as enriched uranium and plutonium, the official reported in a signed statement to the NRC.
DOE leases part of the complex to U.S. Enrichment Corp. (USEC), which enriches uranium for commercial nuclear power plant fuel.
When the plant was operated by the federal government, it also enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.
USEC issued a statement saying it has discussed the subject with DOE officials and does not believe any of the materials are stored on its space.
"USEC has been assured that DOE is not aware of any condition that creates radiological hazards to USEC personnel at the site beyond those already known and controlled," the company said.
In a statement, DOE confirmed the existence of "an underground classified storage site at Paducah" that is being examined by the department, the Pentagon and the Justice Department.
"The Energy Department with the Departments of Defense and Justice are looking at classified national security programs conducted in the past at Paducah. That includes reviewing materials and quantities involved," said the DOE statement.
While DOE had been investigating the matter, government officials did not inform USEC workers or management of details about what had been found.
According to the Post, Carroll, in a five-page memo, said he learned about the bomb parts from a senior USEC supervisor, radiation project manager Orville Cypret.
Carroll wrote that Cypret said he learned about the bomb parts from Dale Jackson, the former DOE manager of the Paducah site.
"I find this situation to be unconscionable," Carroll wrote in the letter, according to the Post. "Personnel could conceivably encounter highly enriched uranium or plutonium (or even tritium) without ever knowing it."
The Paducah plant has been the focus of an ongoing investigation concerning the exposure of plant workers to radioactive plutonium and neptunium during the Cold War years. The material was mixed with recycled uranium metal from military reactors.
Early last week, DOE released a report that found Paducah workers were exposed to high levels of radiation on the job between 1952 and 1990 at the uranium processing plant.