BY MIKE GALLAGHER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has agreed to pay $1.1 million in penalties for repeatedly missing deadlines on a problem-plagued cleanup project at Fernald, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Tuesday.
The settlement includes a $100,000 fine and $1 million to pay for five environmental projects at the site, the EPA said.
Numerous design, construction and operational problems have delayed the disposal of 20 million pounds of radioactive sludge in silos at Fernald.
The disposal process, known as vitrification, would have encapsulated the wastes in glass pellets. The project was being done for DOE by Fluor Daniel Fernald, the private company that is managing the cleanup of the 1,050-acre former uranium processing plant.
The EPA is the government agency that sets the cleanup project. The agency denied a September 1996 request by the DOE to extend the mandatory cleanup deadlines for the vitrification project. The two agencies then joined in a formal dispute-resolution process between October 1996 and May. The EPA announced its penalties Tuesday.
"The settlement also serves as a reminder that EPA is quite serious about cleanup deadlines," said William Muno, regional EPA Superfund director.
In a press release Tuesday, Energy Department officials at Fernald said the agreement allows the DOE and the EPA "to focus our resources to get the (vitrification) project back on track." The EPA has given the Energy Department permission once again to conduct feasibility studies to determine how best to treat and remove the silos' waste.
The five environmental projects the Energy Department must now complete under the settlement with EPA are:
- Establishment of a conservation area to preserve wildlife habitats near the Fernald site.
- Creation of a wild bird and flower habitat area and walking paths.
- Funding Energy Department research grants for ecological restoration efforts at the site.
- Decontamination and off-site recycling of an estimated 300 to 500 tons of steel railroad tracks from Fernald's former process area.
- Decontamination and off-site recycling of an estimated 300 to 500 tons of structural steel debris and oversized salvage material.
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