Officials unsure what to do with radioactive tanks
Published on Saturday, December 30, 2006.
Source: Knox News
OAK RIDGE – The government has invested a fortune in the cleanup of Melton Valley, which – considering its inglorious past as a dumping ground for all things nuclear – might be better named Meltdown Valley.
Workers have plugged wells, capped landfills, drained waste ponds and injected grout in cracks and crevices in an effort to halt the spread of radioactive contamination. They have torn down old buildings, hauled away junk and excavated “hot spots” that couldn’t be cleaned or contained.
But there are times when federal contractors don’t know what to do.
That’s the case with five big tanks underneath a three-sided shed a few miles from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They’ve been sitting there for decades, unadorned except for a collection of signs that warn of the radiation hazards.
According to John Owsley, the state’s environmental oversight director in Oak Ridge, the tanks – and their radioactive contents – don’t fit neatly into any of the normal categories for disposal.
They’re stuck in nuclear nowhere.
“It doesn’t quite meet the definition of high-level waste, and the activity is too high for it to be disposed of as low-level waste,” Owsley said.
Therefore, the tanks will stay where they are, alongside a dusty gravel road, while DOE and its contractors and environmental regulators explore the options.
The tanks were brought to ORNL back in the 1960s from the Atomic Energy Commission’s operations in Hanford, Wash. The commission was a predecessor of today’s U.S. Department of Energy.
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