By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer
CROSBY TWP. - U.S. Department of Energy officials in charge of the $4.4 billion nuclear cleanup at Fernald said Tuesday they are prepared to begin removing 153 million pounds of radioactive waste from the first of three concrete silos at Fernald on schedule next month, even if they have no place to ship it for final disposal.
That means the radioactive powder in silo 3 could be placed into storage bags, the bags placed into shipping crates and the crates stacked onto a concrete slab at the Fernald site while a legal dispute between the Department of Energy and the state of Nevada is resolved.
It's impossible to say how long it will take to resolve the dispute.
If the dispute were to drag on into the fall, more highly radioactive waste from silos 1 and 2 would also be removed from the two concrete vessels and placed in metal holding tanks.
Nearby residents are concerned that temporary storage would be unsafe, and they are suspicious that temporary storage on the Fernald site could drag on. Energy department officials outlined their plans Tuesday night at a community meeting.
Lisa Crawford, leader of the Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health, said, "The concrete silos were interim storage 50 years ago. It's hard for me to sit here and hear you talk about interim storage."
The Department of Energy's decision is contrary to both the state and federal Environmental Protection Agency recommendations. Both EPAs say a clear destination needs to be found for the waste before it is removed because temporary storage on Fernald grounds is against the rules governing the silo cleanup.
This issue is important because the silo work is behind schedule, and any delay will make it difficult for the Department of Energy to finish the cleanup by the June 2006 deadline.
All 153 million pounds of silo waste were to be shipped to the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, for permanent disposal. But three weeks ago, the state of Nevada threatened to file a federal lawsuit to stop those shipments before they can begin. The Nevada Attorney General says Fernald waste can't legally be stored at the Nevada Test Site.
Energy Department officials said Tuesday they are still studying the legal arguments raised by Nevada attorneys, agreeing to give the state 45 days' notice before making the first shipment.
John Stattler, the Department of Energy's project manager for silos, said the department wants to begin removing the waste so it can be shipped as soon as its final resting place is determined. He also said removal of the waste from concrete silos that have safely stored the material for 52 years is "the safest thing to do."
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