Friday, October 24, 1997
Fernald, DOE get another 'F'
Nuclear cleanup effort scorned

Enquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - A watchdog group charged Thursday that the Department of Energy is still largely failing in its efforts to clean up radioactive wastes at Fernald and other former Cold War production sites.

The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research of Tacoma Park, Md., recently examined waste management efforts at Fernald and Hanford, Wash.

It also looked at the handling of plutonium and plutonium-related wastes at other sites to get a feel for the effectiveness of the nationwide effort.

''Our analysis has led us to the conclusion that the prospects of DOE succeeding are poor, despite the billions of dollars that DOE spends every year,'' said Marc Fioravanti, staff engineer for the institute.

The nationwide cleanup budget is close to $5.6 billion annually. At Fernald, the IEER examined the pilot effort to vitrify, or turn into glass, nuclear waste kept in three large silos.

''It has so far been an utter failure by any reasonable set of criteria,'' the group concluded.

''DOE and its contractor, Fluor Daniel, have shown a lack of basic engineering judgment, improper design and construction procedures and weak oversight. The waste was not well characterized and the treatment technology was not well-tested,'' the study found.

The Energy Department's Fernald office did not reply to a request for comment.

The IEER report is the latest criticism of the Fernald cleanup since the problems were uncovered by the Enquirer in a series of stories that began in February 1996. As a result of the articles, the U.S. General Accounting Office investigated the cleanup. In May, the Energy Department stripped Fluor of the vitrification part of the project, citing findings of the GAO that confirmed the Enquirer reports.