No Vitrification of Fernald's High-level K-65 Residues

Implications for NFSS?

Fernald NFSS News

 DOE's cost-saving decision not to use the best waste isolation technology currently available, vitrification, for the K-65 residues stored in silos at its Fernald, OH former uranium production facility sets a scientifically-insupportable precedent that is extremely short-sighted. It is likely to result in similar or worse mismanagement by Army Corps of Engineers of the K-65 materials at the Niagara Falls Storage Site (NFSS) near Lewiston, NY.

After giving the community the rational 1994 silos ROD stating that the K-65 materials should be vitrified, seven years later (after getting an onsite tumulus for millions of cubic yards of contaminated soils - a tumulus fated to eventually contaminate the underlying aquifer) DOE rescinded that decision and switched to a "chemical stabilization" method, i.e. mixing the waste with concrete, in a July 2001 Amendment to the original 1994 ROD. This change markedly reduces the effectiveness of the remedy. It was based solely on the higher cost of a proven vitrification technology - a cost deemed too high by DOE. The amendment was approved by the EPA without satisfying the public's right to further NEPA review - in the form of an SEIS (Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement) - of such a significant alteration of the original decision.

Now, in a move similar to the attampt to re-classify HLW at West Valley, DOE wants to insert a clause in the massive Energy Bill that would re-classify these highly hazardous wastes as "commercial waste ", i.e. low-level waste. This would enable these wastes to be dumped at the commercial Envirocare facility in Utah, further lining the pockets of this politically well-connected waste company. Utah Rep. Bishop is pushing the insertion of this clause.

The National Academy of Science's National Research Council studied the question of how best to manage these K-65 wastes to ensure long-term safety using available waste stabilization and isolation technologies. The NRC's 1995 report, "Safety of the High-Level Uranium Ore Residues at the Niagara Falls Storage Site, Lewiston, New York", stigmatized the K-65 residues as virtually indistinguishable in hazard from high level waste (HLW), and concluded that there is no technical reason why the NFSS material should not receive the same management approach chosen by DOE in its original 1994 ROD for Fernald's K-65 wastes and also the RODs for the HLW at Hanford, Savannah River, and West Valley: namely, to maximize the longevity of waste stability and environmental isolation by vitrifying the residues. See Fernald background.

The 1995 NRC report notes that DOE's "interim actions" at NFSS, i.e. the slurrying of the K-65 residues from the silo to the building basement within the NFSS tumulus, may present additional difficulties not then present at the Fernald silos, i.e. require more costly special excavation techniques prior to proper waste stabilization. See ROLE letter for a discussion of these earlier DOE violations of the NEPA process that effected this relatively inexpensive but very unwise, band-aid remedy.

On the subject of cost, it is worth noting that $50 billion dollars have been spent to date [July 2003] in the War on Iraq, with ongoing monthly military costs tagged at $4 billion for the indefinite future, all in the name of eliminating the Bush/Blair claimed but yet-to-be-discovered Iraqi stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Meanwhile the known, huge long-term public health hazards of our own WMD toxic legacy are being poorly addressed because of "cost considerations".