Saturday, June 16, 2001

Dirtiest job lies ahead at Fernald

Cleanup hits 10-year mark; Voinovich visits

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CROSBY TOWNSHIP — Ten years down. At least seven years and about $2.3 billion to go to finish cleaning up the Tristate's biggest environmental waste site — the former Fernald uranium processing plant.

        For nearly 40 years, starting in 1951, Fernald served as an important component of America's nuclear weapons-making industry. Thousands of workers at this once-sprawling complex near Ross — 17 miles northwest of Cincinnati — processed raw uranium ore into metal derbys that went on to other sites to be used in the production of plutonium for atomic bombs.

        Since 1989, however, uranium production at Fernald has given way to a multibillion-dollar cleanup effort, started after government officials reluctantly conceded that the plant had polluted the environment and increased health risks for workers and neighbors alike.

Diminished skyline
        Ohio Sen. George Voinovich toured the Fernald plant Friday, his first visit to the site. He said he was pleased with the progress he saw.

        So far, 92 of 273 buildings and structures at Fernald have been demolished, cut into scraps and buried on-site, including several of the largest buildings that created Fernald's once easily visible skyline off Ohio 126.

        Crews have completed three of seven planned waste storage pits, where mounds of radioactive scrap will be buried under 8-foot caps of dirt and rock.

        “We'll have to monitor and maintain those sites forever,” said Dennis Carr, a Fernald staff member who led the tour.

Ton upon ton of waste
        Meanwhile, the nation's largest ground water contamination treatment project is processing 1,000 gallons a minute — a job expected to continue to 2010.

        From a nearby rail yard, three 60-car trains a month are hauling 18,000 tons of waste a month for burial in Utah.

        Despite all these efforts, some of the hardest work is yet to come.

        Come 2005, crews plan to start treating and hauling away the site's most dangerous material — a slurry of radioactive wastes stored in Fernald's aging K-65 silos.

        Construction has begun on a large concrete building that will house new tanks to hold the K-65 waste. Transfer begins next year.

        “That's going to be kind of scary for us,” said Edwa Yocum, a member of FRESH, a citizens group that has fought for years to clean up the site.

        Overall, FRESH members are pleased with the continued progress. However, they are not satisfied that the government has answered all the questions about health risks posed by the old plant.

        “They've only scraped at the top level of our (health) concerns,” Mrs. Yocum said.


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