Recovery Act Work Comes Just in Time for Many at Paducah

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act touched nearly 1,000 lives at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Paducah Site, including new and existing workers, vendors, suppliers, and subcontractors.

Brandon Henderson, one of about 240 people hired for full-time work on Recovery Act projects, said his engineering job followed a year of unfruitful searching during the last recession.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I was to find the job because that was my last stop,” said the May 2009 graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Engineering at Paducah.

In late 2009, Randy Scott’s engineering company, Diversified Management Consultants LLC, hired nine engineers involving Recovery Act funding. DMC is a small business teaming partner with LATA Environmental Services of Kentucky, the Department’s cleanup contractor.

“Experience like this from a new engineer’s perspective is hard to find in the Paducah area,” said Scott, Engineering and Technical Services manager for LATA Kentucky. “The Recovery Act afforded them this opportunity.”

Henderson, who grew up in Paducah, now works with the U.S. Enrichment Corp, which enriches uranium at the Paducah Site.

“The Recovery Act work gave me a chance to work with veteran engineers as well as engineers closer to my age,” said Henderson, 30. “Those experiences got me involved in some things that will help in my work here at USEC.”

Other former Recovery Act engineers are with Babcock and Wilcox Conversion Services, which operates a Paducah Site facility to convert depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6) into more stable material; and Honeywell Specialty Chemicals in Metropolis, Ill., which manufactures UF6.

“Many others hired as part of the Recovery Act were unemployed or underemployed people whose job skills and marketability were enhanced by the training and expertise gained at the Paducah Site,” said Rob Seifert, the Department’s Recovery Act project director at Paducah.

Workers underwent three months of rigorous training including regulatory compliance, safety systems, hazard communication, hazardous materials handling, using protective gear, and operating mobile equipment. The Paducah Site worked with West Community and Technical College to customize training.

Maintenance mechanics were certified in plasma arc cutting and other types of welding to remove miles of piping from old buildings being cleaned up and torn down with Recovery Act funds. Electricians underwent training to safely track and dismantle long-unused electrical systems.

Brad Morgan, who managed a crew that cleaned up the Paducah Site’s East End Smelter, said the ARRA training and experience helped him get hired at a chemical plant elsewhere in western Kentucky. Morgan left the Paducah Site in January 2011, four months after the smelter was torn down.

All of the nearly $79 million in Recovery Act funding at Paducah went to prime and subcontracts awarded to small business. That included more than 60 equipment and mobile home suppliers, uniform rental stores, and other vendors.


Top Recovery Act Workers Come from Thousands of Applicants

Hiring, training, and mobilizing 240 workers became a way of life for Elizabeth Wyatt, who in August 2009 took over as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project manager for the Department of Energy’s Paducah Site cleanup contractor.

Four job fairs drew about 5,300 applicants in the worst recession since the Great Depression. She and human resources officials looked for people with experience in construction, industry, and other beneficial backgrounds. They worked many weekends interviewing to find the best candidates.

“We wanted to make sure we gave everyone a fair shot at the jobs,” said Wyatt, who works for LATA Environmental Services of Kentucky, LLC.

Physicals, background checks, orientation, and extensive training followed. Eighteen mobile homes had to be acquired and serviced with utilities as a base of operations. Vans, drivers, and routes were another logistical challenge.

“This whole thing was a huge effort that took multiple departments within LATA Kentucky working together,” Wyatt said.

Experienced workers were paired with new workers in three huge complexes that had been inactive for many years. Dedication to safe, efficient cleanup was a key reason for the success of Recovery Act work, said Wes Adams, a heavy equipment operator and member of United Steelworkers Local 550.

“The company has gone above and beyond on the training,” Adams said. “The supervisors have done an excellent job keeping people from getting hurt in the time frame they’ve had to work in.”

Safety training and rigor have paid off. LATA Kentucky is approaching 1 million hours without a lost workday due to job-related injury or illness.

Adams started Recovery Act work in November 2009 after a slump in the lumber industry threatened his heavy equipment business. He operates a remote-controlled demolition machine in areas too tight for mobile cranes. Used at Paducah for the first time, the machine has a hydraulic arm that can reach about 23 feet and snip materials loose.

Other innovations at Paducah included using mobile cranes to improve safety and efficiency, and
adding a night shift to combat summer heat.

Crews initially found the buildings to be dark, full of debris, and contaminated with hazardous chemicals in long-abandoned multiple operating systems, said front-line supervisor Chris Stewart. “There were hazards around every corner.”

Stewart moved to western Kentucky from North Carolina to take a job in the metals industry. He got laid off during the recession and was hired at the Paducah Site in September 2009.

Stewart worked with Adams and front-line manager Scott Wildharber in a complex known as the Metals Plant where uranium metal was made. Seven stories high in some places, the Metals Plant had been inactive since the mid-1980s.

“One of the biggest challenges was getting the elevator to work,” said Wildharber, a former railroad electrical shop superintendent. “It was the only way we had of accessing the floors and moving waste.”


Recovery Act Fuels Accelerated Cleanup at Paducah Site

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act workers at the Department of Energy’s Paducah Site removed more than 230,000 cubic feet of waste – enough to fill a football field five feet deep.

Nearly $79 million in funding led to the demolition of five inactive Cold War-era structures exceeding 57,000 square feet in total footprint. In addition, the ARRA funding supported demolition-readiness activities for two large buildings with a total footprint over 250,000 square feet that are expected to be razed in 2012.

All the complexes were heavily contaminated and, without Recovery Act funding, would not have been cleaned up for many years to come. Accelerating cleanup avoided $28 million in inflationary costs.

“ARRA enabled us to further our mission of cleaning up the site by getting rid of structures with no reuse potential and reducing that environmental liability,” said Rob Seifert, the Department’s Paducah Site Recovery Act project director.

Recovery Act funding accelerated by 22 years the cleanup and demolition of a 21,000-square-foot complex known as the East End Smelter, used until 1986 mainly to smelt nickel. Before the Smelter was razed in September 2010, Recovery Act workers completed 25 ARRA milestones in removing more than 60,000 cubic feet of contaminated waste, notably a bedroom-sized furnace and equipment weighing up to 250,000 pounds.

About $12 million saved on the Smelter was shifted to cleanup of the Feed Plant, once a nine-facility complex spanning nearly 200,000 square feet. It operated from 1957 to 1977 to produce uranium hexafluoride (UF6) and fluorine.

Feed Plant workers met 40 Recovery Act milestones while integrating a comprehensive recycling program. Placing debris in the plant on-site landfill avoided about $1.5 million in costs associated with transporting the material to an approved off-site disposal facility.

Workers removed more than 60 tons of reusable copper bus bars and decontaminated more than 100 fluorine-generation cells that were turned over to private industry for reuse, avoiding about $2.5 million in disposal costs. The equipment was used to make fluorine.

Heavy equipment demolished the half-acre eastern third of the Feed Plant in late June, three months ahead of schedule. Cleanup of the rest of the complex is ongoing in anticipation of 2012 demolition.

A third ARRA project resulted in the 65,000-square foot Metals Plant being declared demolition-ready in early August, saving $2.5 million due to accelerating cleanup five years ahead of schedule. Workers met 25 milestones, notably demolishing 4,000 square feet of ancillary facilities in July 2010 and completing magnesium fluoride systems removal in December 2010.

Magnesium fluoride was used in making uranium metal. The Metals Plant operated until the mid-1980s, mainly to convert depleted UF6 into uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), known as green salt.

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