Saturday, October 21, 2000

Paducah plant gets $90M for cleanup

Congress doubles aid

The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — Congress has approved more than $90 million for cleanup and worker health testing at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

        A total of $90 million was earmarked for cleanup in fiscal 2001, a significant increase over the $43 million spent in previous years.

        The legislation also includes $4.3 million to continue and expand medical testing of current and former Paducah workers.

        The Paducah plant, which for five decades enriched uranium for nuclear weapons and power plants, has widely contaminated soil, water and plant and animal life around the facility. Many current and former workers also worry that they have been unknowingly exposed to radioactivity and hazardous chemicals.

        The money approved Thursday would help expand health screenings for as many as 1,800 people annually at Paducah, up from the 350 tested last year, said Richard Miller, policy analyst for the Paper, Allied Chemical and Energy Workers union.

        “In a lot of ways, this is a step forward,” Mr. Miller said. “That's going to save some lives, frankly.”

        Congress also approved $1.75 million for an epidemiological study of Paducah workers by the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. And $3 million is being set aside for programs to help workers and the community adjust to layoffs.

        The House voted 386-24 to approve the money as part of a combined spending plan for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and independent agencies. The Senate voted 85-8 in favor of it.

        Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., whose district includes Paducah, and Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, both Republicans, pushed for the measure.

        Mr. Bunning said in a statement that he would like $100 million set aside for cleanup, but that the amount approved “does show that the federal government is serious about cleaning up the Paducah plant.”

        The increase is still below estimates from the General Accounting Office, which said the U.S. Department of Energy will need to spend at least $124 million annually to make substantial progress in removing contamination.

        Mark Donham, a Brookport, Ill., environmentalist on the Site Specific Advisory Board, a citizens' group monitoring plant cleanup activities, said he wasn't particularly excited about the additional cleanup spending.

        “I'm not sure throwing more money at this problem is going to make things better. The same people are in there that have been misleading everybody” about contamination, he said.


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