March 2007 Column Winner
Nobody likes a mess, especially radioactive ones
By David Gerard, Muskogee Phoenix
Well, it's Utah's problem now.
That's what's nice about this mobile world. If we can crate or can something we don't want, we can ship it somewhere else.
Of course, expect complaints. A month ago, somebody in Utah called and asked what kind of waste Muskogee was sending them.
He referred to the sludge at the defunct Fansteel plant along the Arkansas River. For more than 10 years, Fansteel and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have talked about cleaning up the site. Last year, Fansteel began shipping the sludge to the White Mesa Uranium Mill for processing in order to capture the metals with commercial value
The original plan was to bury the remaining Fansteel waste in a concrete monolith at the site overlooking the Arkansas River.
A similar plan was proposed at Sequoyah Fuels - formerly a Kerr-McGee plant - near Gore along Oklahoma's Illinois River, which had processed nuclear reactor fuel and manufactured uranium for armor-piercing bullets.
Sequoyah Fuels is sending its radioactive waste - 95,000 tons left at last count - to Nevada for disposal. But last month a shipping container leaked, and of course, Nevada doesn't want leaking radioactive material. So the shipments had to stop to make sure nothing else leaked.
Leaks were somewhat probable since the drums have been sitting in the open for almost 15 years - and that's the nature of metal containers and man - we have a tough time containing our messes.
The land under Fansteel is tainted. The land and water under Sequoyah Fuels is tainted.
Utah is worried Fansteel's sludge will leak, too. The Sierra Club's Glen Canyon Chapter says White Mesa's sludge ponds aren't adequate and show signs of leaking.
To tell the truth, if I was in Utah or Nevada, I'd tell Oklahoma to keep its waste - Oklahomans worked at those plants, they were paid well, the state collected taxes from the companies, and Oklahoma can just find a place for the mess.
But what to we care? We only want to get rid of the stuff.
In 1999, Stephen Jantzen, then a state assistant attorney general, said Oklahoma chose not to allow nuclear power plants in the state, and we didn't even want radioactive waste sitting in protective concrete monoliths.
"Even if they're not harmful, who wants to be out fishing with a four-story tall mound with radioactivity staring at them from only yards away?" he said about a proposed Sequoyah Fuel's monolith.
That's nice sentiment. But it is a bit hypocritical to say we wanted the profits, but we don't want the mess.
If White Mesa can handle our radioactive sludge responsibility, let them.
But if they can't, then we shouldn't dump our mess on Utah. I'm sure Utah has its own messes to take care of. That's the nature of man. We're pretty good at making messes and lousy and long at cleaning them up.
Posted on Thu, March 15, 2007