OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — The U.S. Department of Energy says a new Oak Ridge landfill for hazardous and radioactive wastes would cost roughly $817 million — a figure that's cheaper than shipping the material to an off-site disposal facility.
The department estimates that shipping out the wastes would cost almost three times that much.
DOE is running out of space at its current landfill, known officially as the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility, in Bear Creek Valley west of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant.
The agency would prefer to build a new landfill and make it operational within the next decade. In order to have the new landfill available when needed, DOE plans to start construction of the facility in mid-2017, said DOE's Executive Officer of the cleanup program at Oak Ridge, Mike Koentop.
Koentop told the Knoxville News Sentinel DOE disposes of 90 percent of its cleanup-generated wastes at the government's Oak Ridge landfill. Koentop said the new proposed landfill would be adjacent to the existing landfill just west of the Y-12 plant.
The maximum amount allowed at the waste-disposal facility is 2.18 million cubic yards, and DOE said the capacity could be reached as early as 2020. The demolition of old buildings — such as the former K-25 uranium-enrichment facility — has rapidly generated many tons of construction rubble, much of its destined for the burial site.
DOE is working with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on ways to deal with the large volume of waste — an estimated 2 million cubic yards — that will be generated after the existing landfill is closed and capped.
Although DOE has indicated it wants to build a new landfill to meet the Oak Ridge needs, the legal process requires an examination of alternatives. If the wastes were shipped off site, about 96 percent of the volume would be transported primarily by rail to DOE's Nevada National Security Site for disposal.
The only alternative to building a new Oak Ridge landfill or shipping the waste off-site is to store it at the site of cleanup projects, and that's not considered desirable and might not comply with environmental laws.
DOE is proposing construction of a new Oak Ridge landfill on a 92-acre tract just east of the existing facility, with about 70 acres of the site dedicated to actual waste disposal.
The new facility would be called the Environmental Management Disposal Facility or EMDF.
The proposed site has some obvious advantages. Because of the location, it could use a $20 million "haul road" that was built several years ago to transport wastes from K-25 and other demolition projects at the East Tennessee Technology Park. The road is dedicated solely to the transportation of wastes, so dump trucks do not have to use public roads, reducing the risk of accidents or spread of contamination.
Roger Petrie, a project manager with TDEC, said there are "ongoing questions" about the groundwater levels around the currently used facility, and the proposed facility is in the same area.
"The landfill is proposed for placement of radioisotopes, mercury and other constituents that will be present through geologic time. Landfill stability is of paramount importance ... ," Petrie wrote in a cover letter to the state's comments.