Wednesday, September 20, 2000

DOE avows safe cleanup

Fernald waste to be covered

By Walt Schaefer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Envision a grass- or concrete-covered mound 15 feet high and about half a mile long.

        In 2008, that will be the only visible feature of the former Fernald plant in Crosby Township, which qualified for federal Superfund hazardous-waste cleanup funds after being shut down in 1988. The multibillion-dollar cleanup started in 1991.

        The mound will contain and shield the last of the dangerous waste at the former uranium-processing plant. The material will remain dangerously radioactive for at least a century.

        But that is not the end of the task facing the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and site manager Fluor Fernald Inc. A meeting of about 175 people, focusing on future stewardship of the site, continues today at the Kingsgate Conference Center on the University of Cincinnati's Clifton campus. It is open to the public.

        “We are looking for a safe cleanup. How that is done is to ensure (the hazardous waste) is protected. How we ensure it is protected is by monitoring (it),” said Jack Craig, deputy manager for the Ohio office of the DOE.

        Any leakage of the hazardous radioactive material from the mound could end up in the ground water or the atmosphere, Mr. Craig said. That cannot be allowed to happen.

        The stewardship conference involves investigating present and future technology that will be available to monitor the site after the cleanup is completed.

        The Fernald site is 17 miles northwest of Cincinnati. It is owned by the DOE and managed by Fluor Fernald Inc.

        Christy McMurry, Fluor Fernald spokeswoman, said the conference includes representatives from DOE in Washington, D.C., and from hazardous-waste sites from around the country.

        Also in attendance are environmental scientists from the University of Cincinnati and Florida International University — a leading research school in environmental technology and cleanup, Mr. Craig said. Regulations experts and technology vendors — some of whom are displaying or demonstrating technological advances — are present, Ms. McMurry said.

        Gary Stegner, a DOE spokesman, said the conference is to introduce what is technologically available today to monitor such sites as Fernald, what advances can be expected within the next seven years, and how existing technology has been used on existing sites in other parts of the country where cleanup is further along.

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