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Parks Township nuclear dump cleanup delayed again |
Valley News Dispatch

Parks Township nuclear dump cleanup delayed again

Mary Ann Thomas
| Saturday, February 17, 2018 12:57 p.m
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Dorthy Seckman, 78, has lived along Mary Street, next to the Shallow Land Disposal Area in the Kiskimere section of Parks Township, for more than 40 years. “It doesn’t impact me,” she said. “I’m not planning to move.”
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Clinton Stear, 52, stands in front of his grandmother's home along Mary Street in the Kiskimere section of Parks Township while talking about growing up in the area next to the former NUMEC nuclear dump.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
A guard station stands behind the fence at the Shallow Land Disposal Area in Parks Township on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
A 'Welcome to Kiskimere' sign stands directly across the street from the Shallow Land Disposal Area in Parks Township.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Double and triple fencing surrounds the Shallow Land Disposal Area, a nuclear waste dump, in the Kiskimere section of Parks Township.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Dorthy Seckman talks about her disappointment at the delays in cleaning up the former NUMEC nuclear dump in the Kiskimere section of Parks Township. Seckman has lived near the dump for more than 40 years.

While 14 years seems like a long time to clean up the 44-acre nuclear waste dump in Parks Township, progress seems imminent.

But only after another delay.

The resolution of a bid challenge for the $350 million contract to excavate and remove radioactive contamination from 10 shallow trenches added 1 12 years to the cleanup process, which now could run through 2032.

President Trump’s 2019 budget allotment of $8 million to the Army Corps of Engineers will continue the planning, testing and other preparations for the cleanup.

Excavation stopped at the site in 2011 because a Corps contractor allegedly mishandled and found more complex nuclear material than expected.

But progress is guaranteed for the project.

The Parks Township cleanup is among the three most important in the country for sites with contamination from nuclear weapon production for the Cold War arms race, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which administers the program.

Frustration with delays

A series of setbacks has been frustrating for all associated with the cleanup of the nearly 60-year-old nuclear dump, once used by an Apollo company that produced nuclear fuel for U.S. submarines, power plants and other programs.

Dorothy Seckman lives in a manicured, white ranch house, near the waste dump in the Kiskimere section of Parks Township.

When the 78-year-old wife and mother of two learned that the cleanup was shut down seven years ago and a new contractor would be needed, she knew it would take years to re-start the project.

“It doesn’t impact me,” she said. “I’m not planning to move.”

However, she is not so sure about some of the safety issues at the site.

“Once they start digging and moving that stuff around, it’s hard to believe that nothing will get in the air,” she said.

Seckman is concerned for the small rural neighborhood.

“Who is going to move up here?” she asked.

Patty Ameno, 66, of Hyde Park, a longtime environmental activist, shares residents’ frustrations. She’s lobbied for cleanup of nuclear sites in Armstrong County for 30 years: First for the cleanup of the former Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. uranium processing plant in Apollo and, now, for the dump that company and its successors used in Parks Township.

“These delays are too long, and they are dallying with something they already know is a dangerous site,” Ameno said.

A cancer survivor and Navy veteran who suffered injuries while serving, Ameno said she doubts she will live to see the excavation restart, let alone the removal of nuclear material.

Jeff Hawk, a Corps spokesman, said, “We are making progress and meeting the challenges associated with a cleanup project that is complicated by poor historical records, severely degraded and difficult to characterize materials, and a contracting process that appropriately requires fair competition and proper vetting of qualified candidates.”

Site safety

The Corps and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission insist the site currently is safe because the radioactive waste is buried in trenches. Groundwater testing shows there is, so far, no migration out of the burial trenches of nuclear materials, including enriched Uranium-235, a radioactive metal used in nuclear fuel and weapons, with a half life of 700 million years.

However, there have been cases of nuclear waste from the plant found outside of the dump.

“I’m challenging the Corps definition of the safety at that site,” Ameno said. “There are other parts of the original company site where it is unknown what is buried there.”

Ameno has been critical of the NRC and the Corps for years because, she says, the agencies have underestimated the magnitude of radioactive materials buried at the site.

“The site poses no immediate threat to the public and, as we move through the project, we don’t expect such a threat to the public,” said Corps Capt. Brian Molloy, the new project manager of the cleanup.

The Corps mantra has been that safety, not speed or funding, is driving the project.

Although the Corps excavated only half of two burial trenches before shutting down the project in 2011, they learned that they might find more material than they expected, Hawk said.

The Corps has not changed their opinion of what is buried at the site: “Low-level radiological waste that can be safely removed, characterized, stored and transported off site,” Hawk said.

The nuclear waste unearthed might be difficult to characterize, which will take more time and personnel to process and safely remove it, he said.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s office intends to monitor the progress of the project, said Jacklin Rhoads, a spokeswoman for Casey.

“We are hopeful that the cleanup will proceed in a timely and safe fashion and will continue to fight for the funds to make sure the project can proceed,” Rhoads said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, or via Twitter .

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