by Terry Duffy
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials provided much greater insight than ever before into what's what with the Interim Waste Containment Structure on Pletcher Road, and Corps' plans for its future, at a Wednesday workshop in the Lewiston Senior Center.
The session, the start of what's anticipated to be months of information and sharing by the Corps as it proceeds through a nearly yearlong feasibility study on IWCS, provided attendees new clarity on the IWCS contents and their actual radioactive contamination. It also gave some idea to the community on what could be expected if the Corps opts to proceed with a full-scale remediation of the 10-acre IWCS cell at Niagara Falls Storage Site, housed within the once sprawling Lake Ontario Ordnance Works in northern Lewiston.
Titled a "Workshop on Waste Disposal Options and Fernald Lessons Learned," it discussed and compared IWCS to a successful government remediated radioactive clean-up project in Fernald, Ohio, detailing the similarities and differences between the two.
Lt. Col. Stephen H. Bales, commander of the Corps Buffalo District, explained in a taped message how NFSS and the IWCS falls under the government's Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act for funding, and under Corps management as a Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Plan facility for remediation. "The Niagara Falls Storage Site is now in the feasibility study stage of this process," said Bales.
He said Corps remediation would consider three phases: IWCS, the balance of the NFSS property and groundwater issues. "The objective of this study is to identify and evaluate potential remedial alternatives for all radioactive and chemical contamination," said Bales, saying that during the process the Corps would issue five technical memorandums leading to the IWCS feasibility report that would be developed starting in summer of 2012, with expected completion in 2013.
Bales also conveyed a pledge of openness and cooperation to the public by the Corps as it moves through the process and invited their input. "We are taking this approach to provide multiple opportunities for public input," stated Bales. "We're committed to working with the community."
Doug Sarno, retained earlier by the Corps to serve as a technical facilitator and work with the community throughout the process, opened his discussion by saying the IWCS actually falls under a lesser category when it comes to radioactive contamination and evaluating the scope of government attention. Unlike Fernald, which saw actual production of uranium fuel cores at its facility from 1951 to 1989, along with residual K-65 radioactive waste storage, IWCS has been used solely for storage of K-65 wastes, and others, primarily brought to LOOW from other locations, Sarno said.
Also noted were differences between the two with respect to location, proximity to local population and proximity to utilized water sources. Fernald for example, is closer to populated areas and is actually on top of an active aquifer supply used for southern Ohio water needs, whereas the IWCS is not.
As such, IWCS is on what Sarno called a non-National Priorities List with oversight by the Department of Energy and the Corps, versus Fernald, whose government remediation and closure, done at a total cost of $4 billion, involved oversight by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
He said the Corps' feasibility for IWCS remediation would consider a range of options - from doing nothing, to removing everything. "We will be doing something here," Sarno said, ruling out the first option altogether.
Julie Reitinger, technical leader with SAIC, a Corps consulting group located in the Midwest, provided new insight on the IWCS facility with respect to its contents and offered some notable comparisons to that of Fernald. She noted, for example, that Fernald, which processed uranium for 38 years and served as a storage facility for K-65 wastes, was 1,050 acres in total area.
The entire NFSS, on the other hand, totals 191 acres in size, was never used in production, and includes wastes of varying types and radioactivity. IWCS, found within NFSS, was built in the 1980s. It is 10 acres in size and serves as a consolidation repository from earlier LOOW site munitions production, Manhattan Project landfilling residues from off-site production sites, and other storage wastes, both those imported to LOOW and from demolished structures on the LOOW site.
Found inside are K-65 radioactive wastes, radium 226 and radon 222 wastes, R-10 residues and a mix of other residues/wastes and contaminated debris and soils, contained both within the contaminated rubble and wastes.
She informed that Fernald contained 9,000 cubic yards of K-65 wastes in earthen berm-enclosed concrete silo containers, while the IWCS, a constructed in-ground facility with brown clay and concrete perimeters on its sides, and mounted on brown clay and gray clay soil unit under layers with no liner underneath, contains 4,000 cubic yards of the K-65s. "Both Fernald and IWCS are similar in their form and radioactivity," said Reitinger. "They have similarities, but others which cannot be carried over."
As far as its concentration, she added, in cubic yards, "the IWCS volume (in K-65 and other wastes) can fill an Olympic-size swimming pool."
Reitinger and other Corps technical reps informed the K-65s are concentrated in a southern area of the IWCS cell. They are primarily housed in Corps-constructed Bay A (holding greater K-65 concentrations from ore processing activities) and Bay C (holding lesser K-65 concentrations from residues and mixed with other wastes), in what was the basement area of the former Building 411 facility. "The K-65 wastes were put in buildings that were originally basements due to their containerization (capability)," said Reitinger.
She said that as it proceeds in its evaluations the Corps will be focusing on the best options for removal of all K-65s from the IWCS.
Considered would be those utilized in Fernald. Those may include constructing an onsite remediation facility to remove K-65 wastes through a three stage slurry process followed by mixings, chemical stabilizations, vitrifications and encapsulations of the K-65s into sealed containers en route to ultimate offsite disposal. Also considered would be construction of an onsite radon control system complex designed to prevent off-site releases and provide for greater worker safety. No cost estimates were provided on those facilities.
In his remarks, George Butterworth, also a technical leader with the SAIC consulting group, detailed the Corps options and portions of their cost.
Noted was a new categorization by the Corps of the K-65s wastes and their classification, which will steer its determinations on what could and should be disposed off site. Butterworth reported that all IWCS wastes, K-65s and others, fall under the Corps' 11 e (2) classification for removal. The evaluation comes from the extent of uranium contamination found in wastes deriving directly from the extraction process in uranium processing, and in wastes from residues involved with uranium processing. Greater levels of the K-65s, Butterworth said, are in those generated from straight uranium ore processing. Lesser amounts found in IWCS, such as L-30, L-50 and F-32 wastes, R-10 residues, tower soils and contaminated rubbles and wastes, are comprised of those from residues. All would be considered as wastes for disposal off site.
Mentioned as likely disposal sites were an energy solutions facility in Utah and a WCS facility in Texas, both commercial operations that are licensed to accept 11 e (2) wastes and other similar wastes.
As far as costs, those for actual onsite remediation of the IWCS wastes considered for ultimate disposal were not revealed, as the Corps has not yet extricated any wastes from inside the IWCS cell to fully evaluate the extent of their contamination severity en route to treatment/disposal. Butterworth revealed that estimated disposal costs alone for the K-65s from IWCS to an out-of-state disposal site would be $26 million, and that due to the blending of wastes listed above in the 11 e (2) lesser category, disposal of high volumes of contaminated soils from IWCS to an out-of-state facility would be in excess of $80 million. Methods of transportation, i.e. truck or rail, were not fully factored in. However, the Corps estimated complete disposal costs alone for all IWCS wastes would be $235 million.
Butterworth added that actual costs would be dependent on disposal volume, plus consideration of alternatives selected on treatment.
"All costs are preliminary," Butterworth said, "and will be updated due to changes in criteria, waste acceptance and disposal costs. More details on this would be coming in the feasibility study (report)," he added.
Following his remarks, the session broke into discussion workshops for those gathered, as part of the Corps community involvement process. Throughout the session, comments were collected and will be included in the Corps' ongoing input process.
Corps reps said that, as part of its desires for a better working relationship with the community, it will utilize the LOOW Community Action Council in a sharing of ideas and input. The next LOOW CAC session is Thursday, Oct. 6, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. It meets in the Alumni Room at the Lew-Port Community Education Center, Creek Road campus, and is open to the public.
The Corps also said the public comment period from Wednesday's Disposal Options/Lessons Learned workshop continues to Oct. 28. Comments may be sent to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District FUSRAP Team, 1776 Niagara St., Buffalo, NY 14207. They may also be sent via email to [email protected].