Sunday, January 16, 2000

Fernald panel backs process

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HARRISON — With some dissension, a panel of Fernald-area residents and workers fell in line Saturday with a government plan to treat and remove the most dangerous waste remaining at the former uranium-processing plant.

        The Fernald Citizens Advisory Board recommended that the radioactive muck, now sitting in two crumbling silos, be combined with concrete to form solid bricks suitable for shipping to a Nevada dump site.

        It would be safer and easier than melting the waste into glasslike pellets in a complicated process known as vitrification, the majority of CAB members said. That process was tried in 1996, but abandoned after a meltdown.

        The Department of Energy, which owns the site and is overseeing its multibillion-dollar cleanup, favors the simpler “chemical stabilization” technique approved by CAB during its meeting here.

        But some community members disagree.

        They note that the chemical bricks would require three times as many cross-country truck shipments as the much more compact glass pellets — increasing the risk of a traffic accident. They worry because, unlike the pellets, concrete cannot confine cancer-causing radon gas emitted by the waste. And concrete will eventually crumble.

        “I don't want people in Nevada, 50 or 100 years from now, to have to deal with that,” said Pam Dunn, treasurer of Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health and a CAB member.

        Along with FRESH president and fellow CAB member Lisa Crawford, Ms. Dunn said she doesn't necessarily think concrete stabilization would be any easier or cheaper. They cast the only votes against the CAB recommendation.

        Those who favor chemical stabilization say it does not require the extreme heat of vitrification, so it is safer for workers. And it is much less complicated: The waste is simply mixed with concrete and other chemicals, then poured into molds and allowed to dry.

        It's a matter of “getting it up and running it reliably,” said CAB member Gene Willike. After years of delays, “our big concern is to keep the project running.”

        If officials at DOE headquarters agree with their Ohio counterparts that chemical stabilization is the way to go, a recommendation will be issued in the spring. Public hearings would then be held.


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