Past Influences the Future
The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) has a rich and controversial history.
In order to address the challenges facing the Plant's cleanup, it is necessary to
be aware of the Plant's history.
Although the Plant was originally constructed to enrich uranium for warfare, the
PGDP currently enriches uranium for nuclear power
plants and employs approximately 1,200 workers.
One can only speculate about the future, but the likely plant closing will have a considerably
negative impact on the local economy.
Kentucky Ordinance Works
April 8, 1942, approximately 4 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, an estimated
250 McCracken County families were given notice that they had to move in 10 days.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acquired 16,100 acres for the construction of a
$30,000,000 Arms Plant.
The Kentucky Ordinance Works (KOW) was completed on April 30, 1943, including its
own infrastructure, water and sewer system, power plant, hospital, laundry, roads
and railroad. Operated by the Atlas Powder Company, the KOW was the largest
of eleven (11) TNT plants in the U.S. and produced approximately 196,000 tons of
Immediately after the war, September 1945, the KOW was closed.
Only part of the original acquisition was safe enough for public use and was sold.
The TNT production sites remained uninhabitable due to the possibility of explosion.
The Army Corps of Engineers accepts responsibility for cleanup of these sites. http://www.lrl.usace.army.mil/poi/default.asp?mycategory=451
August 1, 1946, Congress established with the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 giving civilian
control over atomic energy. That independent agency was the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).
After the war, the fear of communism fueled the Cold War and Vice President Alban
Barkley, a Paducah native, campaigned for the construction
of a new uranium enrichment facility at the former KOW location.
1950-1952 Paducah Site Chosen & Production Begins
October 1950, the KOW site was chosen for the $800 million project. Additional
acreage was acquired for a total of 3,425 acres (more recent surveys state 3,556
The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant began production in September 1952.
F.H. McGraw and Co. of Hartford, Connecticut, was awarded the construction contract
while Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Co. latterly named Union Carbide Chemical Company
was the operating contractor.
The Plant lies within a 750 acre secure compound and of the remaining acreage, currently
the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife leases the 1,986 acres for the West Kentucky State
Wildlife Management Area.
For a comprehensive view of the surrounding area download the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife map
Shift from Military to Commercial Purpose
The Atomic Energy Act Amendment of 1954 allowed for the development of commercial nuclear
1965, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) switched from enriching uranium
for bombs to enriching uranium for nuclear reactors.
End of the AEC
In 1975, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Energy Research and Development
Administration (ERDA) took over the responsibilities for the Atomic Energy Commission
(AEC). The ERDA assumed responsibilities for uranium enrichment.
Then in October 1977, the ERDA's functions were transferred to the newly created
Department of Energy (DOE).
1984 Under New Management
After more than three decades, Union Carbide was replaced by Martin Marietta to operate
1987 Environmental Survey
The DOE preformed a baseline environmental survey revealing 93 potentially contaminated
sites, three showed groundwater contamination.
Contamination outside the PGDP
On July 25, 1988, the McCracken County Health Department collected samples of private
drinking-water wells; the Kentucky Cabinet for Human Resources (CHR) Radiation Control
Branch (RCB) discovered Technetium-99 (99Tc)
in wells northwest of the PGDP.
On August 10, 1988, Martin Marietta sampled wells around the perimeter of PGDP; 4 of
the 12 wells contaminated with Trichloroethene (TCE)
and 99Tc were residential.
August 12, 1988, affected residents were told not to drink or bathe in the water;
potable water was supplied.
On September 23, 1988, a contract was awarded to construct a water line extension to
the affected residents.
EPA and DOE
November 23, 1988, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the DOE entered
into an Administrative Order by Consent
The ACO required the DOE to investigate and address the nature and extent of the
PGDP-related contamination and its impacts on human health and the environment.
On August 19, 1991 Kentucky issued the DOE a Resource
Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) permit for the treatment and storage of
hazardous PGDP wastes. The RCRA permit requires DOE to comply with environmental
laws and regulations in the cradle to grave management of hazardous wastes, worker
safety, record keeping, emergency planning and prevention, and protection of public
health and the environment.
1993-1997, USEC & EPA
1993, the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) was created as a government
corporation to restructure the enrichment operation but maintained Martin Marietta
as a subcontractor.
On May 31, 1994, the PGDP was placed on the National
Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is part of the Superfund program, a
U.S. environmental policy established by the Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)
and regulated by the Resource Conservation and Recovery
1997, USEC became a private corporation and in 1998, USEC assumed control of the
PGDP enrichment operations.
DOE, EPA, and Kentucky
1998, after 4 years of negotiations, the DOE, EPA, and the Commonwealth formally
signed a PGDP Federal Facilities Agreement (FFA).
When a site is listed on the NPL and becomes a Superfund site, federal law requires
that responsible state and federal agencies enter into a Federal Facilities Agreement
(FFA). The FFA outlines the roles and responsibilities of the responsible agencies
for the investigation and implementation of corrective measures at the facility
and integrates state and federal cleanup requirements into an effective and comprehensive
2003, DOE signed an Agreed Order with Kentucky documenting formal commitments for
cleanup and to settle outstanding enforcement and compliance.
Commitment to Cleanup
On September 15, 2003 the Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and Environment
(KRCEE) was established at the University of Kentucky for the purpose of supporting
expeditious, cost effective, and technically effective environmental clean-up activities
at the PGDP.
The PGDP is currently in transition from operation to cleanup. The plant is
currently re-enriching spent uranium tails, disposing of legacy waste, deactivating
and decommissioning, and demolishing inactive buildings.
According to the DOE, Office of Environmental Management, the current end state
completion baseline date for Paducah is 2030.
source: "Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant". February 2, 2012. DOE, Office of Environmental