By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer
CROSBY TOWNSHIP - Ohio's top environmental official wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy this week saying he thinks that federal officials in charge of the Fernald nuclear cleanup intend to remove radioactive waste from a concrete silo and store it in steel shipping crates at the site.
Such a move would violate the rules governing the $4.4 billion cleanup, but officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have said repeatedly that they don't know what they will do if that step is taken.
The letter, sent Tuesday from OEPA Director Christopher Jones, says such a move is "completely unacceptable."
Jones' letter says two factors led to his conclusion:
Department of Energy officials overseeing the silos project have said they can begin removing waste by the end of June.
DOE has committed to giving the state of Nevada a 45-day notice before the first shipment of waste is sent, and that notice had not been given as of Wednesday.
"Any attempt to remove the silo contents and accumulate packaged waste on-site would be a violation of the (rules), and actionable by US EPA or a third party (such as the state of Ohio)," Jones' letter says. "Consider this letter our rejection of that proposal."
The letter also says Ohio environmental regulators expect a 15-day notice prior to removal of any material from the silos "so that we can ensure complete implementation of the (rules)."
The removal of silo waste became an issue April 15, when the Nevada Attorney General's Office threatened a federal lawsuit to halt the waste shipments before they begin, saying the planned disposal of the waste in Nevada is illegal and unsafe. Department of Energy lawyers said they needed time to review the legal arguments raised by Nevada, and promised to give state officials a 45-day notice before the shipment hits the road.
Rules governing the silo cleanup state that the material must be removed, packaged and shipped in a continuous process. The rules say the silo waste cannot be stored temporarily at the Fernald site after it's removed from the silos.
Removal of the waste could begin as early as June 28.
Officials with the Department of Energy at the Fernald site refused to comment on the letter, referring all questions to a spokesman in Washington. He did not return phone messages left Wednesday.
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