Tuesday, April 29, 1997
Glass-pellet method endorsed
But it will cost more, take longer

BY TIM BONFIELD
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The most dangerous radioactive waste at Fernald should still be turned into glass pellets, a team of experts said Monday - even though finishing the job would cost millions of dollars more and take years longer to complete than originally projected.

As expected, an independent review team formed in November to study Fernald's troubled vitrification project recommended that the project be taken away from main contractor Fluor Daniel Fernald and subcontracted to another company.

The basic findings of the review team report mirror a March report from the U.S. General Accounting Office that said Fluor Daniel's vitrification pilot plant was riddled with technical problems, behind schedule and millions over budget. The team was formed by Fluor Daniel and approved by the U.S. Energy Department after an Enquirer investigation uncovered problems in the cleanup of the former uranium processing plant.

The vitrification project is considered the most critical component of the overall cleanup of the 1,050-acre site.

In March, the Energy Department said it would replace Fluor Daniel on the vitrification project while leaving the company in charge of the overall cleanup. The review team report offers details about how to fix the problems.

In a 6-5 vote, the team recommended building a full-scale vitrification plant to treat radium-laced wastes in Fernald's Silos 1 and 2. The report also recommended encasing less-hazardous waste in Silo 3 in concrete.

The report makes a preliminary estimate on what it will take to finish the job:

  • The vitrification plant would begin operation in 2006 and complete the job by 2011. The total cost of the silo project would be $476 million. Until now, the total cost estimate for the vitrification project had been $250 million, with active waste cleanup complete by 2006.

  • Trucks would then haul 3,800 containers of glass ''gems'' and 2,160 loads of concrete ''monoliths'' to a burial site in the West.

  • Trying to put all the waste in concrete would be faster and cost less - $433 million, completed by 2008 - but would require five times as many cross-country waste shipments.

The review team report notes that these estimates are based primarily on data from Fluor Daniel. A new subcontractor may be able to do the job for less, the report said.

The five dissenting members of the review team, whose comments are included in the report, said they remain pessimistic about vitrification ever being successful because a new subcontractor with the skill and experience needed for the job ''is unknown and probably does not exist.''

''No one to the knowledge of the (minority group) has ever successfully melted lead glass in commercial quantities while using sulfate-containing raw materials,'' they said.

The dissenters support concrete encasement for all the silo waste. They say it would be cheaper and faster, and the production process poses less chance of a catastrophic accident.

Fluor Daniel spokeswoman Tricia Thompson said the company has no objections to the report. ''We had endorsed this approach prior to the (review team's) report and the GAO report being released,'' she said.

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