Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Firm to clean up silos at Fernald

Waste removal target date: 2003

The Cincinnati Enquirer

[fernald silos]
Two K-65 silos at Fernald are foreground.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        The U.S. Department of Energy is awarding a $50 million, four-year contract to a New Jersey company to remove potentially deadly, radium-bearing sludge wastes from two concrete silos at the Fernald site.

        Foster Wheeler Environmental Corp. is to design, build and operate the system to remove the wastes and place them into new holding tanks by September 2003. The company, based in Livingston, N.J., also will be required to design and build a system to reduce the buildup of radioactive radon gas in the storage silos.

        “The award of this contract is a significant step toward the final remediation of the silo material,” Nina Akgunduz, Department of Energy silos project manager, said in a statement.

        The silos were built in the 1950s to temporarily contain radioactive waste at the Crosby Township site, about 20 miles northwest of Cincinnati. The plant processed uranium for nuclear weapons from 1951 until the work stopped in 1989 for cleanup.

        The silos were never meant to be long-term storage tanks and have eroded over the years.

        Leaving the waste in the deteriorating silos presents a health risk to nearby residents and 2,000 workers at the site. Exposure to the waste and its byproducts can cause cancer and other diseases.

How gas leaks
        Radon gas leaking from the plant's waste storage silos causes the most significant health risk to nearby residents, studies have shown. Studies sponsored by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released in 1998 and 1997, concluded that about 85 people have died or are expected to die from lung cancer because they lived near the plant for long periods of time.

        The Energy Department still must decide in the coming months what to do with those wastes and how much to spend on processing them for transportation west for permanent disposal, likely at the department's Nevada test site.

Radon gas levels way up at Fernald
        Fernald-area residents say they are optimistic but are reserving final judgment until the cleanup is complete. Fluor Daniel Fernald tried vitrification — turning the material into a glasslike solid — in 1996, but failed when a pilot plant melted and spewed thousands of pounds of waste into an emergency catch basin and onto the floor.

        The Energy Department demanded that another company handle vitrification testing.

        “The fact that the silos aren't in the best shape and they're going to be moved into a safer configuration is good as long as it doesn't become a long-term storage situation,” said Vicky Dastillung, vice president of Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health.

        “We'll be holding our breath until it's totally off site and stored in a different configuration,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. “That's always the fear — where waste doesn't get processed and moved off-site as promised.”

        The Energy Department hopes to finish removing and treating silo wastes and demolishing the structures by 2008, with most of the remaining work at the site to be done by 2006, depending on funding levels Congress approves.


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