FRIDAY November 28, 2003

No Utah site will take 'hot' waste from Ohio, N.Y.


By Judy Fahys
The Salt Lake Tribune


    A southeastern Utah uranium recycler is not in the running as a possible burial ground for highly concentrated radioactive waste from two controversial government cleanups.
    Officials at the International Uranium Corp. White Mesa uranium mill have confirmed the company never planned to bid for waste from Ohio and New York.
    With the decision last week by Envirocare of Utah to drop its federal application to receive the waste -- and International Uranium out of the picture -- there are no commercial facilities in Utah eligible to accept the 13,000 cubic yards of radioactive material from government cleanups in Fernald, Ohio, and Niagara Falls, N.Y.
    International Uranium President Ron Hochstein noted that his company is not licensed for "direct disposal" of the K-65 waste, like the stuff stored in two silos at Fernald. Even though the mill has recycled mildly contaminated tai lings from similar uranium ore in the past, his company would not seek the license change needed for White Mesa to be considered, he said.
    "Silos 1 and 2 are too hot for us to handle," said Hochstein, whose company is one of San Juan County's biggest employers.
    In fact, none of the nation's commercial storage sites -- including the two in Utah -- has the government approvals needed to accept the waste.
    Congress helped clear the way for commercial disposal of the K-65 sludge with passage last week of the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. The bill reclassified the unusually concentrated radium waste so that it could be buried in a surface landfill rather than in a government-owned underground disposal site as originally proposed.
    "We are going to continue to pursue all the options we can," said Jeff Wagner, a spokesman for Fluor Fernald, the contractor for the Fernald cleanup.
    "Our interest is to make sure we find a safe home for this waste and can do it in an efficient and cost-effective manner," he added, "and [we] can do it on our closure schedule of 2006."
    Fluor Fernald had been looking for years for a way to send the K-65 waste to Envirocare's privately owned radioactive and hazardous waste landfill in Tooele County, rather than sending it to the government-owned Nevada Test Site. The contractor, the U.S. Energy Department's choice for the $1.4 billion cleanup, described Envirocare as the safest and cheapest option for disposing of the waste, which, untreated and undiluted, is roughly 125 times more concentrated than currently allo wed in Utah.
    Radium emits penetrating gamma rays, as well as alpha radiation, a known carcinogen. It is considered a hazard to human health and the environment forever.
    Envirocare had asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to increase its license for uranium byproduct waste from its current 4,000 picocuries radium per gram of waste to 100,000 picocuries radium per gram. But the company prom ised U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and state legislators that it would not pursue the license change until Utah takes over the byproduct regulation program from the NRC -- a switch that is not expected to be complete until next spring.
    Envirocare also faced mounting public concern about the plans, which clash with the state's current policy of only taking mildly tainted radioactive waste.
    The company's withdrawal dashed the Energy Department's plans to use the Utah site. It also jeopardizes Fluor Fernald's hopes of getting a $215 million performance bonus for getting the job done by a December 2006 deadline.
    By dropping its license-change request, Envirocare will lose out on the $14 million Ohio contract -- a contract the company claimed in an Oct. 21 advertisement that would also be sought by "competitors in Colorado and Texas."
    Commercial facilities in Washington and South Carolina are not licensed by the NRC to accept uranium byproduct waste. Low-level facilities in Idaho, Texas, Colorado and White Mesa also do not have the proper government licenses.
    Said Myron Fliegel, who was reviewing Envirocare's license amendment for the NRC: "I don't know that there's a viable [uranium byproduct] facility that could take it."
    Although Fluor Fernald is looking for other options, it appears Envirocare was its best and only hope for commercial disposal.
    Fluor Fernald, the contractor cleaning up the uranium mill site in Ohio, now is proceeding with its plans to haul the waste cross-country to a government-owned disposal facility at the Nevada Test Site. The company would not discl ose whether the waste would travel through Utah on its way to Nevada for fear of sharing sensitive information with would-be terrorists.
    fahys@sltrib.com
   
   



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