DOE proposed landfill: ‘Outstanding issues to be resolved’

J. Brad Stevenson speaks at Monday’s workshop on the DOE proposal. (photo:Ken Leinart )
The proposed Department of Energy (DOE) landfill within the Oak Ridge Security Complex is, well, complex.

And unique, which has drawn a number of concerns from citizens living in Oak Ridge, former staff of the security complex, and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

Those concerns were expressed Monday night during an Anderson County Commission workshop. Along with numerous citizens voicing concerns over the proposed landfill, how DOE has “applied” for the landfill, and the relationship between Anderson County and DOE, one of the three agencies charged with granting approval for DOE cleanup also spoke out about the proposal.

The other two agencies are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DOE.

“Y-12 is the most unique facility in the world,” J. Brad Stevenson, a geologist/environmental consultant with TDEC said. “It’s a real challenge and it’s not a simple problem to fix.”

Stevenson said there are seven areas of concern for TDEC.

1. Stevenson said there are questions about the suitability of the site proposed by DOE. Groundwater levels are a concern, and could DOE use a smaller site?

2. Stevenson said there are “exemptions and waivers” built in to a superfund site, which is a cleanup and not a new landfill. He said TDEC was “comfortable” with that aspect. “It’s an outstanding issue that has to be resolved,” he said.

3. DOE has given out “general information,” Stevenson said. He said TDEC wants more, a “good understanding of what goes there (in the proposed landfill).”

4. He noted the DOE proposal has no risk assessment, per say. He said DOE has an internal process it goes through and the reality is “DOE can dispose of nuclear waste without going through anybody.” It’s the other contaminants that may be in the demolition TDEC wants to know about.

5. “A key concern is the Bear Creek site,” Stevenson said. He said Bear Creek already has contamination, enough so that fish caught in those waters cannot be eaten. “The system (Bear Creek) is listed as ‘impaired,’” he said. TDEC’s concern is to creating more of a problem for Bear Creek and people downstream. “There are already level of mercury in the water. We want to see more information.”

6. The landfill in use now at the DOE Security Complex has an “under drain” system to prevent leakage into the water table. “It’s not the type of thing the state would typically approve,” Stevenson said. “There are a lot of concerns with the under drain.”

7. He also noted there is a “big difference” between what would go into a new landfill that what came out of K-25 and the Technology Park. He said a lot more information is needed.

Stevenson said TDEC has been “working with draft documents through the years” with DOE and that TDEC “isn’t against an on-site” facility, but that there are “a lot of uncertainties with the (DOE) plan.”

Stevenson said the mercury contamination is the glitch and without more information it would be an option to ship contaminants out west, “out of wet and heavily populated areas.

“Determining what are safe levels … That’s EPA,” he said.

Manager of the Oak Ridge TDEC office Michael Higgins also addressed the workshop. He said if DOE gets a permit under the superfund cleanup ruling it would still have to be compliant to the regulatory oversight.

As for mercury levels, Higgins said there is already mercury contamination in the ground at the site. The goal is to not let in more contamination.

“That horse is already out of the barn,” he said.

although it can be costly.

“The loss of any one generation source doesn’t impact the overall availability of electricity,” Brooks explained. “However, transmission stability is part of the review being conducted.”

Residents have sometimes been asked to raise thermostats to conserve energy. If meeting power demands is already a struggle, wouldn’t shutting down Bull Run just add to that problem?

“Requests for conservation are related to the overall grid and available assets at that time,” Brooks said. “We often have generation assets down for maintenance, and occasionally generation that ‘trips’ offline for various reasons. One of the areas of focus in our review will be any potential impacts on our generation grid.”

So, in other words, they’re looking into that. That’s the whole point; TVA is trying to determine if the pros outweigh the cons of retiring the unit. Bull Run is, according to the TVA, kind of inefficient to run.

In order to make repairs, which it needs frequently, it has to be shut down. Shutting down a coal-fired plant costs a lot of money. According to a report published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “every time a power plant is turned off and on, the boiler, steam lines, turbine, and auxiliary components go through unavoidably large thermal and pressure stresses, which cause damage… While cycling-related increases in failure rates may not be noted immediately, critical components will eventually start to fail.”

Bull Run starts and stops fairly frequently. The shutdowns have placed the plant at “the bottom quartile of the U.S. fleet and the worst in the TVA coal fleet for forced outage occurrences,” according to the TVA.