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Paducah plant reviewing safety after earthquake

Paducah plant reviewing safety after earthquake

Posted: Monday, April 25, 2011 9:04 pm
By: AP

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) — A uranium enrichment plant in western Kentucky is reviewing safety regulations and emergency response protocols after an earthquake and tsunami in Japan damaged a nuclear power plant there.
USEC Inc., which runs the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, started the review in March, shortly after a 9.0 earthquake destroyed parts of Japan and set off a tsunami that flooded a nuclear power plant.
USEC vice president Steve Penrod told The Paducah Sun that the review is voluntary, even though two national industry organizations urged all members to review protocols.
USEC only enriches uranium, which is later used in nuclear power plants, in Paducah. Penrod said the plant doesn’t have a nuclear reactor or the spent-fuel pools that nuclear power plants feature.
“It’s been said we’re more of a chemical plant that processes radioactive materials,” said Georgann Lookofsky, USEC spokeswoman.
The distinction is an important one as worries and renewed scrutiny have arisen after radioactive contamination in Japan from one of the world’s worst nuclear incidents.
Penrod said in enriching uranium, the plant pressurizes gas and sends it through a process. Losing power and shutting down the process would only cool off the facility and pose no health risks as far as contamination, Penrod said.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission hasn’t handed down changes to guidelines at the plant site. Pressure is on nuclear facilities, as nuclear-safety and environmental groups have called for an independent investigation on pools that store spent fuel and a moratorium on relicensing and approvals of new designs.
The Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce board asked for a presentation from Penrod in early March on the situation in Japan, said chamber president Elaine Spalding.
“We wanted to know, ‘What are the facts?’” Spalding said. “We’re still sort of waiting to see what exactly the facts are with the crisis in Japan.”
Information from: The Paducah Sun, http://www.paducahsun.com

Published in The Messenger 4.25.11

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