Saturday, May 15, 2004

EPA calls Fernald plan illegal

Storing waste outside silos set for June

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CROSBY TWP. - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that short-term storage of radioactive waste from the Fernald silos at the site in northwest Hamilton County clearly violates legally binding rules that govern the $4.4 billion cleanup.

But EPA officials say they don't know what they can or will do if the material is temporarily stored at Fernald, outside of the silos that have safely held it for more than 50 years.

In a plan outlined to residents last week, Department of Energy officials in charge of the cleanup said they plan to remove the silo waste on schedule starting in June. That decision could leave bags of radiological powder stored in steel crates at Fernald for weeks or months.

The crisis, and confusion, stems from a threat by the Nevada Attorney General to file a federal lawsuit that could stop the shipments of waste, and its planned disposal at the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Nevada officials say the planned storage of 153 million pounds of the silo material is not only illegal and unsafe, but it violates the Department of Energy's own rules governing the disposal of radioactive material.

"The (rules) do not call for any interim or long-term storage," at the Fernald site, said Jim Saric, a U.S. EPA project manager on the $4.4 billion project. "They have to treat it, load it and ship it. It must be a continuous activity.

"But I can't tell you how we'd react to" the material being stored temporarily at Fernald. "We'd have to look at the particular injunction, or any decision the judge makes.''

There have been no negotiations between the Energy Department and the state of Nevada over the impasse during the four weeks since the letter was sent, although Energy Department lawyers have promised to give Nevada a 45-day notice before starting any shipments. That appeased Nevada officials, who say they can file their lawsuit within days.

Marta Adams, senior assistant attorney general in Nevada and the woman who would handle any lawsuit against the Department of Energy, said she is concerned that energy officials might remove the waste from the silos, thereby creating an "emergency" and argue to a federal judge that the shipments must begin immediately.

"My concern is that they're going to move this stuff in the driveway and have a critical situation more than they do now,'' Adams said. "It's complicated because what they're about to do is outside of the jurisdiction of any Nevada court."

Removal of the waste is scheduled to begin June 14, said Dennis Carr, project manager on the silos cleanup for the prime contractor, Fluor Fernald. Shipments to Nevada would begin during the last week of June, unless stopped by a federal judge.

As of Friday, the Department of Energy had not notified Nevada officials about the shipments starting.

Carr said he expects the Energy Department and EPA to come to an agreement over the possible temporary storage of silos waste outside of the silos before his crews start removing material. Carr said the material can safely be stored outside of the silos. He dismissed as "not credible" concerns over an earthquake or tornado potentially releasing the material into the air.

The silos are surrounded by earthen berms to protect them against a tornado.

"Taking the waste out of the silos is one more inch toward completion of this job, and I don't want to give away an inch," Carr said. "Once we get it stored in the containers, we can ship it anywhere in the world."

The cleanup has been ongoing for more than a decade, at a cost of more than $1 million per day. Congress is placing pressure on the Energy Department to begin closing its nuclear cleanup sites around the country. Fernald will be one of the first to close if the June 2006 deadline is met.

Fluor gets a $250 million bonus if it meets that deadline.

On Thursday, the president of a citizens watchdog group wrote to Ohio Sens. George Voinovich and Mike , along with Congressmen Steve Chabot and Rob Portman, saying the Energy Department -should not be allowed to begin moving waste until a final destination is identified.

"DOE is merely avoiding the issue instead of addressing it head on," says the letter, signed by Lisa Crawford. "The Fernald facility does not have adequate storage capabilities for these wastes and this should not become a defacto interim storage facility as a quick fix for DOE!

"DOE must address this issue in an open and public process, not only here but also in Nevada, with broad stakeholder participation."


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