Environmental Remediation Overview
Uranium enrichment for nuclear power generation and weapons production resulted in a legacy of contaminated waste sites at the U.S. Department of Energy's civilian nuclear facilities. This includes the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in western Kentucky. This is the last operating uranium enrichment facility in the United States.
Environmental cleanup challenges at the Paducah facility include contamination of groundwater, surface water, soil and sediment. Chemical contaminants include metals, PCBs, and the industrial solvent trichloroethene which was used to clean enrichment process equipment.
Two of the largest groundwater trichloroethene contaminant plumes in the world originate at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and extend more than three miles north toward the Ohio River. One of the plumes contains the radionuclide technetium-99 which was introduced to the site's industrial process through spent fuel material from Department of Energy reactors. The extensive groundwater contamination and the site's numerous waste burial and disposal facilities pose world-class environmental remediation challenges.
Through an annual grant from the Department of Energy, the CAER supports the Paducah facility, Department of Energy, and regulatory agencies in ongoing efforts to understand and remediate the site. Researchers are also assisting the Paducah community in the development of an "end state" plan for future use of the site that would provide continuing economic benefits to Paducah and Western Kentucky. Through the Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and Environment (KRCEE), CAER provides university and industrial expertise, continuing education, and the development and application of technical approaches to solve the site's environmental challenges.
Since it was established in 2003, the KRCEE has completed more than 25 projects to support the DOE's cleanup efforts. Completed projects include the development of GIS-based environmental data storage and retrieval systems; the application of field characterization and remediation methods including bioremediation and in-situ destruction of trichloroethene utilizing nano materials; and groundwater flow and transport models.