A cooling tower adjacent to a process building sustained damage when a tornado struck the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant site Nov. 17.
The Nov. 17 tornado forced a Jeep owned by an employee of DUF6 plant operator Babcock & Wilcox Conversion Services into a stormwater runoff ditch at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant site.
PADUCAH, Ky. – Emergency management is a systematic, integrated effort at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) site, a sprawling complex with more than 500 facilities and multiple work organizations.
Components of the PGDP Emergency Response Organization include the crisis manager and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) cadre, an incident commander, the Emergency Squad and the Joint Public Information Center. USEC, the PGDP plant operator, also maintains a fully staffed fire department along with protective force officers and a medical facility.
DOE, USEC, and DOE’s various contractors have separate emergency response procedures that they practice during training exercises to bolster their ability to work together. Those preparations were put to a real-life test on the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 17, when a tornado struck the plant site.
With wind speeds upward of 115 mph, the tornado carved a substantial path of destruction through western Kentucky and southern Illinois. The PGDP plant shift superintendent previously had directed all personnel to take cover when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the immediate area earlier that day. As part of its lease agreement with DOE, USEC coordinates emergency response at PGDP.
After the suspected presence of a tornado and resulting damage was confirmed, the superintendent declared an emergency according to established procedure and activated the Emergency Response Organization (ERO). The EOC, with its staff of about 60 people representing USEC, DOE and its prime contractors, was activated. The EOC was deactivated four hours later after the ERO had completed an assessment, dealt with potential damage, and established a detailed recovery plan.
No one at the plant was injured during the storm, and all safety systems functioned as designed. No production systems were affected and there were no releases or off-site impacts.
Damage to DOE facilities involved the non-structural exterior of one of the four enrichment process buildings, the adjacent cooling towers and an electrical switchyard. Some power poles, wiring and electrical circuitry around the site perimeter were also damaged. Although the tornado passed near the Depleted Uranium Hexafluoride (DUF6) conversion building and its adjacent inventory of DUF6 cylinder containers, it did no damage to either. However, the twister did damage some of the other DUF6 buildings and site equipment and moved a Jeep from the employee parking lot into a rainfall runoff ditch.
“Despite the harsh weather, the limited damage and intermittent electrical power outages, the DUF6 conversion plant was undamaged and operations continued safely without interruption, as it was designed to do,” said Jack Zimmerman, DUF6 Federal Project Manager at EM's Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office in Lexington, Ky.
“In spite of widespread damage throughout the area, response to the plant’s emergency callout was outstanding,” said USEC Interim General Manager Mike Buckner, who served as assistant crisis manager for the tornado incident. “The EOC was staffed very quickly and provided excellent support to the shift organization already onsite. We had all the resources needed to ensure a safe, thorough and well-coordinated response in the wake of the storm.”
A critique was held Nov. 20 to discuss the emergency response, catalog what worked well and collect lessons learned for future improvements. USEC emergency management specialist April Tilford said the overall sentiment was that all of the organizations at the site worked well together during the emergency to identify damage and resolve issues. Several of the responders specifically noted that their emergency response training and previous drills and exercises prepared them well for a real event.
DOE, USEC, cleanup contractor LATA Kentucky, and Swift & Staley, DOE’s infrastructure contractor, coordinated well during the tornado response and recovery efforts, said Jeff Snook, who was DOE site lead in the plant EOC during the incident.
“They (USEC) defined the problem, prioritized the issues, addressed immediate needs, coordinated resources, ensured everybody was safe and accounted for, and then stood down from the alert once it was determined the plant was in a safe condition for continued operations,” Snook said. “We had some lessons learned to improve our response in the future, but overall the response was quite good.”