KNOXVILLE, TN (6/6/11) The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission rejected citizens' petition for a public hearing about the proposed import of 1,000 tons of radiaoctive waste from Germany to be burned in the Bear Creek incineration facility on the Oak Ridge nuclear weapons reservation. In its order the Commission also granted a license to EnergySolutions to begin importing, transporting and burning the radioactive waste. One of the citizens' complaints was that the waste is not well described and another is the lack of a firm timetable to return the radioactive ashes to Germany. Click HERE to read the Commission's order.
German activists have expressed concern and solidarity while affirming U.S. activists' concerns that the waste is more dangerous than EnergySolutions, Duratek and German corporation Eckert & Ziegler Nuclitec have disclosed. Please stay tuned for updated information and recommended action.
NASHVILLE, TN (2/14/11) The Tennessee Environmental Council, Citizens to End Nuclear Dumping in Tennessee (ENDIT!), and the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance submitted a formal request on January 27, 2011, to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Radiological Health. The petition asks for a public review of the impacts on public health and environmental well-being of the proposed expansion of the Duratek Bear Creek incinerator, an EnergySolutions subsidiary. This expansion comes as EnergySolutions has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to import 1000 tons of radioactive waste from Germany for burning in Oak Ridge.
The groups are concerned that if this plan is implemented, Tennessee will become a destination for radioactive waste from all over the world. EnergySolutions has previously applied to import 20,000 tons of Italian nuclear waste to Oak Ridge for processing, including burning, melting and compaction. Tennessee processors already receive 75% of the nation’s low level radioactive waste, some 41 million pounds per year. Tennessee is the only state that routinely releases millions of pounds of materials from radioactive waste processors into municipal landfills every year, some 4 million pounds in 2009.
Duratek, a division of EnergySolutions, has responded that the request to expand its operation has nothing to do with their request to import more foreign radioactive waste. “Essentially the response to our petition for a public hearing amounts to a claim that they have plenty of radioactive waste to burn apart from the EnergySolutions' request to bring in foreign waste. If so, it is even more important for the public to hear about the growth of radioactive waste incineration to which EnergySolutions now proposes to add foreign waste,” said Brian Paddock, one of the lawyers for the petitioners. “Duratek and EnergySolutions wants us to sit down and shut up, but we think folks have right to know more about this proposal to expand incineration of radwaste in our backyard,” said Paddock.
The Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has not responded to the hearing Request.
Paddock added, “The people of Tennessee and Oak Ridge are being exposed to risks from these activities without a chance to speak up in any public participation process. Many Tennesseans are unaware of the activities of this controversial industry all across the state with TDEC’s permission, while TDEC dodges its legal mandate to provide information on radiological health to the public.”
“Incineration of radioactive materials is not done in most of the nation and the world, but Tennessee is increasingly becoming a destination for this practice. The Germans are a worldwide leader in toxic waste incineration, yet they seek to send their radioactive waste here to burn. If it is safe, why don’t they burn it themselves?” asks Don Safer of the Tennessee Environmental Council.
The EnergySolutions incinerators have been operating since around 1990 and have never undergone a comprehensive environmental impact analysis. They are licensed by the state to burn radioactive materials “in any form as suitable for transport under Department of Transportation regulations.”
“In light of the movement to offer incineration services to radioactive waste generators from all over the world, it is time for the state to conduct an in-depth health and environmental analysis of the issue, including air and water pollution, employee exposure, energy and water usage, and public safety. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordinarily does not consider issues of public health before granting radwaste import licenses which allow tons of radioactive materials to come into our ports, across our highways and into incinerators like those in Oak Ridge. It is up to the state to protect the welfare of its citizens,” Safer added.
OAK RIDGE, TN (2/28/11) On January 19, 2011, the state of Utah issued a Notice of Violation and proposed fine to EnergySolutions for its action in importing waste into the state of Utah in violation of statute limitations. The state’s NOV cites EnergySolutions for violations related to waste generated by five different companies, two in Tennessee. The violations occurred over a three week period, from February 26-March 16, 2010. The violations involving Oak Ridge companies were classified as Severity Level III violations. The first, involving Bechtel Jacobs, asserts that EnergySolutions accepted 16 containers of waste in 8 different shipments that exceeded allowable limits for Class A waste; the containers were shipped as Class A waste. The second violation, involving the Materials and Energy Corporation, asserts that EnergySolutions accepted three drums of material containing Special Nuclear Material (weapons grade Highly Enriched Uranium) that exceeded limits by 28%.
These violations are not isolated events. They appear to be “business as usual” for EnergySolutions, involving numerous source companies and spread out over three weeks. They document a conduct of operations at EnergySolutions that presents a clear threat to public health and safety. We are not questioning whether EnergySolutions can be trusted to import waste into Tennessee. We are saying these Notice of Violations indicate clearly the company can not be trusted. For that reason, we are calling on the state of Tennessee to exercise aggressive oversight, to intervene with the Southeast compact and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and, if necessary, in courts, to protect the people of East Tennessee.
EnergySolutions has demonstrated that it can not be trusted to do the simplest and most basic thing — to know what waste it is dealing with. To date, EnergySolutions has declined to provide detailed information about the waste they intend to import from Germany — either because they can not or will not. This is unacceptable. It places the people of the state of Tennessee at risk.
Whether these violations are malfeasance, sloppiness, or general incompetence is not the issue. The issue is if they make a mistake with the waste they bring to Tennessee and burn, what comes out of the stack could kill people. A company with five notices of violation, from five separate companies over a three week period, can not be trusted. So we are asking the state of Tennessee to step in and assert its authority to protect us, and, if they are unable or unwilling to do that, we believe the state should defer to the Environmental Protection Agency. Those of us who live downwind from the incinerators in Oak Ridge have a right, under the Clean Air Act, to expect the air we breathe to be free of radioactive materials. We can not be confident of that if a waste company that behaves like EnergySolutions has free license to conduct business as usual—since their usual business is obviously to break the law. These violations just represent five times they got caught.
OREPA calls on the state to reset its policy on nuclear waste imports and to adopt a “hands on” stance. The people of the state of Tennessee expect you to do everything necessary to protect us before our air and our health are compromised. We are counting on you.
We look forward to a prompt response to these concerns, and thank you in advance for your attention to this call.
EnergySolutions wants to burn up to 1000 tons of radioactive waste materials from Germany in Oak Ridge at its Bear Creek incinerators. EnergySolutions has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license (IW029) to import the material over a five-year period beginning in 2011 from a German waste accumulator, Eckert and Ziegler Nuclitec.
Burning does not reduce the amount of radiation, just the volume of the contaminated material, so the resulting ash has much higher concentrations of dangerous radiation. Workplace exposure is a serious concern. There is also the reality of radiation slipping past the smokestack filters and entering the air in very fine particulate size both routinely and accidentally. Incineration is a questionable method of waste disposal. Even burning household waste creates dioxins and furans, some of the most toxic man-made substances.
According to a 2007 article in Spiegel Online the world’s best high-tech hazardous waste incinerators are in Germany. Much toxic waste is imported into Germany for incineration. Why allow this radioactive waste material to be burned in Tennessee if they will not do it in Germany? They are a world leader in incineration. What do they know that we do not?
The radioactive waste is being identified by EnergySolutions as “incinerable dry material.” The material is estimated to be 44% plastic, 30% paper, 10% wood, and 10% textiles. EnergySolutions states that the waste coming to Tennessee was generated exclusively in Germany. Eckert and Ziegler says that it collects materials from all over the world. How will the origin of the waste be verified?
The German waste would be transported by boat from Germany to either Portsmouth or Norfolk, Virginia and continue its journey by truck to Oak Ridge. The ash is planned to be returned to Germany by the same route. It is unclear how much of the radiation will remain in the U.S. but “residual radioactive materials”, including the fly ash, floor sweepings, booties, slag, and the contaminated air filters will be disposed domestically under terms of the operating license. This could result in some of these materials ending up in Tennessee municipal landfills under the Bulk Survey for Release program.
It is also possible that Germany would refuse to accept the waste once they are rid of it and it might be abandoned here. Details are so vague that the NRC asked for more details including countries of origin, specific description of the materials, how it was created, and how much and what type of radiation. The questions and EnergySolutions answers are enclosed.
The import/export license is currently being considered by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Despite public opposition, and the fact that a bill to prohibit the importation of foreign radioactive waste easily passed the US House with bi-partisan support last year (but not the Senate) they would be likely to approve the application. NRC rules would have to be waived for them to even consider the health, public safety, and environmental issues. Because Tennessee is an agreement state, those issues need to be addressed by the State of Tennessee.
The EnergySolutions Bear Creek incinerators have been licensed by TDEC’s Division of Radiological Health (DRH) since around 1990. The incinerators have been operated by a series of companies; EnergySolutions acquired the facility from Duratek. The license was last renewed in 2003, the term is usually 10 years, however it might be possible to initiate a new relicensing cycle at this time. The Division of Air Pollution Control is also involved in licensing.
EnergySolutions has applied to the DRH on December 28, 2010, to amend the license of the Bear Creek Incinerators (R-73008-C14) with an increase in site financial assurance, changes in shared radioactive material activity possession limits, and an updated drawing of the perimeter fence monitoring locations. The financial assurance limits are being raised because they want to add 45,600 square feet to the assured work areas. It has been impossible to determine the amount of increase in radioactivity allowed to be on-site because of the redaction of the data that DRH says it is required to do under NRC SUNSI (sensitive security related information) rules. It also has not been possible to determine the amounts and types of radiation that the incinerators are currently authorized to burn because of SUNSI rules. I do not know if the requested changes are essential for Energy Solutions to move forward with the proposal.
EnergySolutions response to question 2 from the NRC’s enclosed RAI states: “EnergySolutions’ Tennessee Radioactive Materials License explicitly authorizes possession and processing of radioactive materials in ‘any form as suitable for transport under DOT regulations.’” This would appear to be a questionable standard to apply to a judgment of appropriateness and safety for incineration.
EnergySolutions has previously tried to import 20,000 tons of Italian radioactive waste to Oak Ridge for processing. That plan would have disposed of the remainder of the processed waste in a landfill in Utah. EnergySolutions has withdrawn this proposal. It has apparently decided to try a different business model that has the waste going back to the country of origin. If they are successful in establishing this new plan it is probable that they will begin to bring in radioactivity from more and more foreign countries. Tennessee is in danger of becoming a world wide destination for radioactive waste.