Senator McConnell's Accomplishments - The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant

There is no bigger champion of the PGDP—and the facility’s hard-working, high-skilled employees—than Senator McConnell, who has been engaged on the issue for decades.

Problem:

An August 1999 Washington Post series, for the first time—revealed the extent of the dangerous working conditions, improper dumping of waste material, and poor record keeping at the Department of Energy (DOE) facility.

Outcome and steps taken by Senator McConnell:

Senator McConnell secured more than $1 billion in funding relating to the PGDP and its workers.   

Worker Medical Monitoring:

Senator McConnell immediately took action by using his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to secure funding for a medical monitoring program for PGDP workers and retirees, which included a mobile CT scan to screen for early stages of lung cancer, a potential result of handling the nuclear material at the facility. While DOE continually underfunded the program in its budget requests to Congress, Senator McConnell worked annually to increase funding and ensure the program—which has now screened thousands of Kentuckians for free—included workers and retirees. According to the program’s director, Dr. Steven Markowitz, “Lives of nuclear workers have been saved because Senator McConnell made this medical screening program one of his budget priorities…Atomic workers are very fortunate to have the Senator as a dependable advocate”  (WHPP Health News, Fall 2003).

Worker Compensation: 

Senator McConnell also worked to ensure PGDP employees were appropriately compensated for their nuclear work-related injuries. This culminated in the passage of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) in 2000, which included Senator McConnell’s Part B provision making workers injured by radioactive materials eligible for $150,000 in compensation and free health care for life. Senator McConnell helped lead a bi-partisan coalition to pass the Senate legislation and personally appealed to Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, to ensure the bill’s House passage before ultimately being signed into law on October 30, 2000. Over 4,000 PGDP workers, retirees, spouses and families have received Part B claims. 

Cleanup:

For many years, Senator McConnell also secured additional cleanup funding for the PGDP—above the DOE’s annual requests—which not only created jobs in Paducah, but also accelerated the pace of vital environmental cleanup activities. He will continue to work with DOE and use his seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to make vital cleanup activities at the facility a top priority for DOE. 

DUF-6:

Decades of enrichment operations at the PGDP produced tens of thousands of aged canisters of depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF-6), a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process, which piled up at the facility awaiting a plan for disposal. In 1998, Senator McConnell authored a bill—that later became law—requiring DOE to develop and implement a plan to safely dispose of this material. In 2002, Senator McConnell authored another bill—which also became law—establishing a date for DOE to construct a conversion facility to dispose of the DUF-6 byproduct. The PGDP’s DUF-6 facility was completed and began disposing the material in 2010. The DUF-6 conversion facility is estimated to employ approximately 100 workers for the next several decades.

Continuing Efforts:

Following DOE’s May 2013 announcement that enrichment activities at the PGDP would cease, Senator McConnell has continued to use his position to ensure that DOE simultaneously fulfills its obligation to clean up the site and focus on future economic development in Paducah by reusing the site’s assets—including its uranium tails—to benefit the community and maximize job creation. Following three meetings hosted by Senator McConnell with Secretary Moniz, DOE expedited its plan to review private-sector proposals to re-use the facility’s material and agreed to favor those planning to keep redevelopment in Paducah. In November 2013, DOE announced it had entered negotiations with a global laser enrichment consortium led by GE—an initiative favored by the Paducah community—to construct a state-of-the-art facility at the Paducah DOE site.  

Acknowledgements:

Paducah Sun editorial stated, “…Kentucky’s congressional delegation, led by U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, played the key role in turning the tide in Washington for Paducah and the uranium enrichment workers…It’s clear that McConnell’s position in the GOP Senate leadership has made a difference for Paducah on plant-related issues…The legislation seemed destined to die in the House, but McConnell and Whitfield were able to rescue it (8/9/2002).”

“The lung cancer screening program has even more of McConnell’s fingerprints. He highlighted the idea at a congressional hearing he chaired on Oct. 26, 1999, and then worked to secure and expand funding for it, according to a 2003 newsletter of the Queens College Worker Health Protection Program, which conducts the screening. ‘Senator McConnell was instrumental in setting up our cancer screening program in 1999,’ said Steven Markowitz, director of the program, in an e-mail.” (“Mitch McConnell’s Claims About Helping Workers Harmed At A Nuclear Fuel Plant,” Washington Post Fact Checker, 1/24/14)

“Former governor Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), who was Energy secretary at the time…said that, more than any other lawmaker, McConnell was essential to passage of the legislation that created a compensation fund for workers and former workers at DOE plants.” (“Mitch McConnell’s Claims About Helping Workers Harmed At A Nuclear Fuel Plant,” Washington Post Fact Checker, 1/24/14)

“Leon Owens, who was vice president (and later president) of the workers’ union at the time, agreed that McConnell played an important role in the legislative efforts. ‘McConnell took the lead in navigating the legislation through Congress,’ he said.” (“Mitch McConnell’s Claims About Helping Workers Harmed At A Nuclear Fuel Plant,” Washington Post Fact Checker, 1/24/14)

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