LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 18, 2013) — Three-dimensional models created at the University of Kentucky showing groundwater cleanup progress at a Department of Energy (DOE) Paducah site, home to the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, are on display at West Kentucky Community and Technical College’s Emerging Technology Center (ETC). The models, which are located in the ETC lobby, are on display to the public from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday, until the end of the year.
The exhibit of models and informational posters is designed to help people understand the difficulty and complexity of groundwater cleanup, said Steve Hampson, associate director of the Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and Environment at the UK Center for Applied Energy Research. His group has done extensive work to support expeditious, cost-efficient, technically effective cleanup of the Paducah site in west McCracken County.
"The groundwater accomplishment display is a start," Hampson said.
Cleaning up about 2,100 acres of contaminated groundwater is important to future use of the site, where the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant operates. DOE owns the land, oversees cleanup, and leases the plant site to USEC Inc., which said it may cease uranium enrichment operations this year.
The models grew from funding secured by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell which included funding to allow the UK College of Design to explore reuses of the plant after closure, said Ken Wheeler, a member of the Paducah Junior College Board of Trustees and the DOE Paducah Citizens Advisory Board.
"The project was undertaken in 2011 and has proved to be an excellent learning environment for UK students in developing a real-world reuse concept for the site," Wheeler said.
WKCTC Continuing Education Coordinator Kevin O’Neill credited UK, DOE and DOE cleanup contractor LATA Environmental Services of Kentucky for making the exhibit possible.
"To have the opportunity to house this display for the public to see is exciting," O’Neill said. "It will be a valuable educational tool for our area school children as well as the public at large to see what has been done at a facility that has meant so much to so many people for many years."
In developing the models, UK College of Design students envisioned the Paducah site as a future thriving area with multiple uses such as research and development, education, energy production, manufacturing and recycling/reclamation, said Gary Rohrbacher, assistant professor of architecture in the College of Design. One of UK's models and plans developed for the Paducah site were displayed in April 2012 at the Fifth International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The event is a world architectural showcase of problems seen as opportunities.
"The students did a wonderful job depicting not only the cleanup challenges but the potential for site redevelopment," said Dave Dollins, groundwater project manager for the Paducah DOE Site Office. "We greatly appreciate their vision and work."
During the first design lab, students looked at the nature and extent of groundwater contamination worldwide, Hampson said. "We found that the plumes at Paducah are by far the two largest single-source plumes that are documented in the world."
Groundwater at the Paducah site is contaminated with trichloroethene (TCE), a common industrial degreaser. DOE has made significant strides in reducing the concentration of TCE by pumping and treating nearly 3 billion gallons of groundwater since the 1990s. DOE also provides municipal water to about 100 homes and businesses near the plant whose wells are capped.
Electrical resistance heating (ERH) was used in 2003 and 2010, and will be repeated in 2013-2014, to remove TCE from as deep as 60 feet below the ground near a cleaning building in the center of the plant that is the leading source of groundwater contamination. DOE and regulators are working to determine the type of treatment system needed for the aquifer 60-100 feet deep.
Subsequent models were built in layers, each of which can be updated as progress is made at the Paducah site. The models in the ETC are built in the layer format with interactive kits that include markers, measuring tools and erasable markers to support communication and meaningful exchange among stakeholders ranging from scientists to contractors to students and community residents.
"We’re excited about what the future holds as the public visits the ETC to see the displays," said O’Neill. "The way models open the door to a better understanding of the groundwater issues and the history of the plant is truly extraordinary."
More information about the creation of the Paducah groundwater models can be found on CAER's blog at: www.caer.uky.edu/caerblog/post/2012/11/26/UK-Visualized-Future-for-Paducah-Gaseous-Diffusion-Plant.aspx.