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Cold War Secrecy Billboard

The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) operated under the shroud of Cold War secrecy from the early 1950’ through the late 1980’s. Plant operators and workers functioned under the provisions of security clearances that prohibited discussion of the PGDP’s mission of enriching uranium for Cold War weaponry and nuclear power generation. Several generations of local residents and workers grew up only quietly acknowledging the PGDP’s presence. Outside of the Jackson Purchase Region and Paducah, little was known about the existence, no less, the mission of the PGDP.

Generations worldwide were taught to "duck and cover", fallout shelters were constructed in backyards, and silent fear was instilled with the mention of the words "nuclear", "radiation" and "atomic."  Public awareness and media coverage of gross industrial environmental impacts and resulting health threats grew exponentially during the late 1960’s and continued into the 1970’s and 1980’s. The Environmental Protection Agency was created in the 1970’s and with it, the cleanup of the Industrial Age’s legacies.

In the 1980’s, the "veil of secrecy" was lifted and information about the government and DOE’s Cold War industrial and science efforts entered into the public conversation. Stories of clandestine secret projects occurring on the government’s nuclear sites remained more common in the public forum than data disclosing the nature and extent of Cold War facilities environmental and health impacts. Data to identify environmental and health impacts was slowly being collected, assessed and selectively released. Environmental activism proliferated, allegations of the governments mishandling of materials and disregard for health and safety found their way into the court of public opinion and lawsuits.

In the late 1990’s - 2000’s, a new era of digital information, public awareness and participation in government activities began. Public discussion about the retirement, dismantling, and cleanup of government facilities evolved to include the futures of communities, economies, employment, environmental impacts and cleanups. With the onset of public participation in government and government projects, acute challenges arose to inform, interact with and educate government officials, stakeholders and the local community.

Since 2003,the Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and Environment (KRCEE) Public Outreach and Education projects have evolved in response to the needs of local citizens, government, public officials, regulatory agencies, and DOE. Initial public outreach activities focused on informing community representatives, management, regulators, and site contractors with focused technical information regarding contemporary and alternative approaches to addressing clean-up and re-use problems. Technical meeting presentations have evolved into public interaction projects that gather and assess community perceptions and needs along with providing information and tools that foster understanding and the ability to address the challenges faced in the cleanup and re-use of the PGDP.