- The Energy Department assured a watchdog group Friday it is addressing the potential for structural collapse of radioactive waste silos at Fernald, which are seen as vulnerable to tornadoes as well.
The department said it plans to transfer wastes from Silos 1 and 2, which emit cancer-causing radon, into temporary storage tanks, although that option could prove controversial.
The announcement came just two days after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted that about 85 people who lived near Fernald while it was in operation will die of lung cancer.
From 1951 to 1989 the plant processed materials used to make nuclear weapons.
DOE officials issued their comments as part of a formal response to a report that the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research issued in October (IEER).
The IEER, based in Takoma Park, expressed concern about Fernald's waste silos in a 309-page study of what it saw as remaining problems with the cleanup of former nuclear weapons sites.
Department officials and representatives of IEER held a joint press conference Friday to address issues raised in the document. ''The risks posed by the waste are increased by concerns over the structural integrity of the silos in which they are stored,'' the IEER report said. ''Cracks and seepage of waste have been noted since the 1950s.''
In addition, the institute said, the type of structural collapse that might occur during a tornado would release amounts of radon that would significantly increase already existing risks of cancer. Of the four concrete-reinforced silos at Fernald, Nos. 1 and 2 are of the most concern because they contain waste generated from the processing of uranium ore. They are better known to area residents as the K-65 silos.
IEER officials contend the best response to the structural decay of the silos would be to cover them with a tornado-resistant enclosure and possibly build just one new storage tank instead of several.
But the Energy Department is planning to build new tanks to hold those wastes.
''We have concerns about increased handling of wastes,'' said Marc Fioravanti.
Energy Department officials, in a written response to the IEER report released at the press conference, said they are confident that building new tanks is the right plan.
''This approach provides several benefits: addressing the uncertainty associated with silo integrity, allowing DOE to work out potential retrieval problems and uncertainties before remediation, and placing waste in a more homogenized form, thus reducing uncertainties associated with treatment,'' the department said.
Energy officials added, ''The (new) storage tanks will be designed to meet the requirements identified by the safety analysis, which addresses the possibility of a tornado.''
Value of further study questioned March 20, 1998
Fernald will cause 85 cancer deaths March 19, 1998