BY TIM BONFIELD
The Cincinnati Enquirer
With $6 billion a year, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) predicts it can clean up most radioactive waste at most of the nation's nuclear weapons sites by 2006.
But no matter how much money Congress throws in, clean-up at Fernald will not be fully complete by that deadline, DOE officials said Friday.
In fact, under the latest recommended plan, treating radioactive sludge in the K-65 silos - the most dangerous waste at Fernald - won't even start until 2006.
On Thursday, Al Alm, DOE assistant secretary for environmental management, presented a plan that calls for ''substantially'' completing clean-up efforts at seven nuclear waste sites in Ohio, plus the Rocky Flats site near Denver, and the Nevada Test Site by 2006.
But if funding is limited to $5.5 billion a year, none of the deadlines would be met, Mr. Alm said.
With full funding, the DOE plans call for removing all nuclear materials from Fernald by 1999 and completing all groundwater treatment by 2005. Those assumptions were based on data from 1995, and are no longer valid, said Ken Morgan, spokesman for DOE's Ohio field office.
The biggest change has been failure of a pilot vitrification plant to test whether radium-laced waste in the silos could be melted into glass-like beads before shipping off-site.
After an Enquirer investigation last year, the DOE acknowledged the vitrification project has fallen far behind schedule.
DOE officials still support vitrification, but they intend to hand the job to a new contractor. According to an independent review team report in April the soonest vitrification could begin is 2006, with completion in 2011.
If officials opt to encase the waste in cement, the job could start in 2003 and be complete by 2008.
Except for silo clean-up, Fernald has made significant progress in clean-up. Demolition of plant buildings, soil excavation and shipment of other stored wastes at Fernald may be complete by 1999. Groundwater treatment is moving ahead of predictions for 2015 completion, but may not meet the 2005 deadline presented to Congress, Mr. Morgan said.
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