Science & Technology
7:30 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Comments Accepted on Halted Nuclear Waste Cleanup Project

The Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District is holding a public comment meeting on a nuclear waste removal project halted in September. Work was stopped after a safety breech and the discovery of "complex" materials which are more difficult to remove, prompted a policy review.

"We don't have any new information, but we want to get their voice and collect their comments so we can forward them up to the people reviewing this policy," said Corps public affairs officer Jeff Hawk.

The 44-acre site, known as the Shallow Land Disposal Area, is located approximately 23 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, along the Kiski River in Armstrong County. Radioactive waste from nuclear fuel plants was buried there between 1960 and 1970.

Hawk said the Corps conducted extensive research into the site over the past decade to best determine the nature of the materials buried in 10 trenches, but needed to begin excavating in August to learn more.

But the long-awaited, eight-year excavation project came to a sudden halt when a worker from Connecticut-based contractor Cabrera Services left his post for an hour, during which time barrels of hazardous materials were removed from the property without being properly checked for contamination levels. Hawk said the contractor self-reported the error.

"At the same time we also encountered complex material in the early portion of our excavation," Hawk said, noting the details of materials found will not be disclosed while work is in progress. "This second action is what triggered a policy review, because if we assume we're going to find complex material more often, the project is going to take longer and it will cost more. It's prudent to step back and take a look at how to go forward."

Materials previously dug out are still being packaged and removed from the site, but no new excavation has taken place. A review by the Pittsburgh branch of the Corps is currently under way to assess how to proceed while ensuring public and worker safety, as well as cost effectiveness. No information has been disclosed regarding changes that might result from the review, or when work might resume.

The public comment meeting will be held Tuesday, June 6, at 6:00 PM at the Parks Township Volunteer Fire Department Hall. Comments can also be made by contacting the Corps' Pittsburgh District directly.