Thrusday, December 31, 1998

Fernald prepares to resume shipping


Radioactive waste gets new containers

BY RACHEL MELCER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CROSBY TOWNSHIP — One year after a low-level radioactive waste shipment leaked onto a Kingman, Ariz., road and shut down a high-priority disposal program at Fernald, Department of Energy officials are ready to try again.

        If final approval from DOE headquarters comes next month as expected, waste shipments from the former Fernald uranium processing plant will again be headed for a Nevada Test Site dumping ground.

        But this time, there will be some changes.

        “We have, over the last year, learned a considerable amount of information about waste shipping containers ... and waste content and how to control that,” said John Sattler, DOE waste management team leader.

        “We've really tightened up those procedures to avoid another incident like we had last year.”

        That is welcome news to people who live, drive and work along the roughly 2,000-mile truck route from Crosby Township to the test site just north of Las Vegas.

        Although DOE said the spill near Kingman did not pose a public health threat, residents of the area were concerned. Las Vegas officials said they were worried about shipments moving through their city and over the Hoover Dam.

        The reputation of the “white boxes” used to ship the waste was permanently tarnished.

        This time, contractor Fluor Daniel Fernald will use new “M100” metal containers, engineered specifically for cross-country radioactive waste shipments. These boxes are also white — but they will undergo rigorous testing and be vir tually certain not to leak, Mr. Sattler said.

        About two dozen of the containers will arrive within the next few weeks for on-site testing at Fernald. If they check out, a manufacturer will be hired to produce between 400 and 500 boxes before the fiscal year ends Oct. 1.

        In the meantime, shipments will resume in limited quantities, using a different type of container that has already been approved by DOE. Several of these are ready and waiting at Fernald.

        The waste inside the boxes will be different, too.

        In the December incident, small amounts of moisture in the radioactive material leached out in transit and spilled through small cracks in the container.

        From now on, only solid material will be shipped. Liquid wastes will be dried.

        “We're very elated” that the shipments will soon resume, said Jim Bierer, co-chair of the Fernald Citizens Advisory Board, which reviews DOE policy and recommends plans of action. “This was something that was very unfortunate, that there was an interruption in the shipping.”

        Although the delay did not set the site behind in its overall cleanup schedule, waste that should have been moved months ago still lingers.

        Some has been shuffled from one spot to another on site, to keep it out of the way of other projects.

        This shipping program is one of two massive disposal operations under way at Fernald. In the other program, less radioactive and smaller materials will be shipped by rail to a commercial dump in Clive, Utah.

        More than 5.3 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste was moved from Fernald to Nevada from 1985 until the December 1997 accident and subsequent shutdown.

        Another 2.7 cubic feet will be shipped over the next 10 years, Mr. Sattler said.

       



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