Kentucky Reaches Settlement in Radioactive Waste Dumping

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Kentucky officials have reached a $168,000 settlement with one of the companies accused of being involved in the dumping of radioactive waste in a landfill.

| April 14, 2017, at 4:26 p.m.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky officials said Friday they reached a $168,000 settlement with one of the companies accused of being involved in dumping radioactive waste in an Appalachian landfill.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services said it reached the settlement with Fairmont Brine Processing, which operates a wastewater treatment facility in West Virginia.

Kentucky officials accused Fairmont Brine of arranging to dispose of radioactive waste in an Estill County landfill in eastern Kentucky. The company had appealed its more than $1 million civil penalty order issued by the state cabinet late last year.

The state said Fairmont Brine contracted with a Kentucky company called Advanced TENORM Services to pick up, transport, treat and dispose of the waste. Some of it ended up in Blue Ridge Landfill in Estill County, the state said.

Fairmont Brine denied all liability but agreed to pay the $168,000 civil penalty over a 30-month period, the state said.

“All settlement proceeds will be directed to the Estill County Public Health Department,” cabinet Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson said in a release. “The funds will be used for radiation-related public health issues in Estill County, particularly radon education and detection.”

Fairmont Brine was one of several companies targeted with civil penalty orders related to disposal of out-of-state radioactive material in Kentucky.

Fairmont Brine cooperated with Kentucky authorities, the cabinet said.

The company maintained it did not intend to violate Kentucky laws. When it contracted with Advanced TENORM Services to dispose its waste, Fairmont Brine relied on the other company’s claims that the waste would be safely and legally deposited in Kentucky, the cabinet said.

Monitoring and testing of areas at Blue Ridge Landfill have shown no evidence the disposal caused radiation or radioactive contamination above federal and state safety limits, the cabinet said.

When the state announced the penalties in 2016, it was also seeking fines from Advanced TENORM. The company is appealing the penalty order against it, the state said.

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Kentucky is on the cusp of doing what was once unthinkable: opening the door to nuclear power.

FILE - In this Oct. 16, 2014 file photo, fog hovers over a mountaintop as a cutout depicting a coal miner stands at a memorial to local miners killed on the job in Cumberland, Ky. The Republican-controlled Kentucky state legislature is on the cusp of lifting its decades-long moratorium on nuclear energy, a move unthinkable just three years ago in a state that has been culturally and economically dominated by coal. As the coal industry continues its slide, even Republican lawmakers are acknowledging a need for alternatives.

Above: FILE – In this Oct. 16, 2014 file photo, fog hovers over a mountaintop as a cutout depicting a coal miner stands at a memorial to local miners killed on the job in Cumberland, Ky. The Republican-controlled Kentucky state legislature is on the cusp of lifting its decades-long moratorium on nuclear energy, a move unthinkable just three years ago in a state that has been culturally and economically dominated by coal. As the coal industry continues its slide, even Republican lawmakers are acknowledging a need for alternatives. David Goldman, File AP Photo

By ADAM BEAM Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky.

Donald Trump promised to bring back coal jobs, but even the country’s third-largest coal producer appears to be hedging its bets on a comeback. Kentucky is on the cusp of doing what was once unthinkable: opening the door to nuclear power.

The Republican-controlled state legislature is close to lifting its decades-long moratorium on nuclear energy in a state that has been culturally and economically dominated by coal. Politicians from both parties have promised for years to revive the struggling coal industry, with Trump famously billing himself as “the last shot for miners.” But as the coal industry continues its slide, even Republican lawmakers are acknowledging a need for alternatives.

“There are other factors other than the administration in the White House that controls this. There are banks that are reluctant at this point to give loans for coal-fired furnaces,” said Republican state Sen. Danny Carroll, who sponsored the bill. “You look at the jobs that were lost, you look at the production of coal and how that has declined, we’ve got to learn lessons from that and we’ve got to have a third option.”

Kentucky’s coal industry has been steadily declining for decades. Coal mining employment has fallen from 31,000 in 1990 to just over 6,300. Just three years ago, coal-fired power plants provided 93 percent of the state’s electricity. Today, that has fallen to 83 percent, according to the Kentucky Coal Association, as older plants are being shut down and replaced by natural gas.

Kentucky is one of 15 states that restrict the construction of new nuclear power facilities according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Wisconsin lifted its ban last year. Nationwide, there are 61 nuclear power plants with 99 nuclear reactors in 30 states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The bill has passed the state Senate and could get a vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin told Cincinnati radio station WKRC he would not veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.

“I don’t see it as a threat to that existing energy infrastructure. I see it as just increasing the opportunities of things we might be able to do in Kentucky,” he said.

The bill has been pushed by local government and business leaders in the western part of the state, which was home to one of the few uranium enrichment plants in the country before it closed in 2013. That left the area teeming with a skilled workforce with no hope of employment in their field.

“Without that moratorium lifted, we absolutely have no opportunity,” said Bob Leeper, the judge executive for McCracken County and a former state senator who has pushed to lift the moratorium for years.

But Kentucky has been burned by the nuclear industry in the past. In the 1960s, seeking to lure the emerging nuclear energy industry into the state, Kentucky set up a place to store toxic waste. From 1963 to 1977, more than 800 corporations dumped 4.7 million cubic feet of radioactive waste at the site, but no nuclear reactor was ever built. The Maxey Flats site is closed, but its contaminated soil, surface water and groundwater resulted in an expensive state and federal cleanup.

“This is the Faustian bargain we engage in. We get cheap energy, but we saddle future generations with millennia responsibility of being mature enough to properly manage waste we are generating,” said Tom Fitzgerald, executive director of the Kentucky Resources Council, which has opposed lifting the moratorium.

Even if the ban is lifted, a nuclear power plant could still take more than 10 years to develop given the rigorous permitting process. And construction would be expensive, which would threaten to drive up electricity rates to pay for it. That is of particular concern to the state’s manufacturing sector, which uses large amounts of electricity in their production processes.

The bill requires state officials to review the state’s permitting process to ensure costs and “environmental consequences” are taken into account. That was enough for Fitzgerald to be “neutral” on the bill.

The Kentucky Coal Association is also neutral, although president Tyler White said they were not happy with the bill.

“We think there are more realistic policies that we should be pursuing in Frankfort than nuclear,” he said.

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Nuclear waste dumped illegally in Kentucky

This is the entrance to an Estill County landfill where

 

James Bruggers8:26 p.m. EST February 25, 2016

Drilling wastes containing concentrated but naturally occurring radio active materials made their way into Kentucky, state officials confirmed on Thursday.

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After learning in January that low-level nuclear waste from drilling operations had been dumped illegally in Kentucky last year, state officials are warning this week that all landfills be on the lookout and to not accept any of the radioactive material.

Kentucky Division of Waste Management Director Tony Hatton said officials have confirmed that low-level nuclear waste from drilling operations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia was sent to a landfill in Estill County between July and November. Officials are also investigating possible illegal shipments of similar waste to a landfill in Greenup County.

He said the waste comes from rock and brine that’s brought to the surface during oil and gas drilling. Naturally occurring radionuclides concentrate during the process. A West Virginia company that recycles the drilling further concentrates the radionuclides — and that’s the waste that Hatton said made to the Blue Ridge Landfill last year in the small town of Irvine, in Estill County, Ky., he said.

It came in 47 sealed boxes, he said. They believe each box contained 25 cubic yards of materials.

State officials do not believe the drilling waste sent to the Green Valley Landfill in Greenup County near West Virginia had gone through that recycling process, so it would present less risk to landfill workers or the public, Hatton said.

Neither is allowed to be transported into Kentucky from those states for disposal, he said.

Joint investigation

The state began investigating after receiving a tip in January about shipments of the waste.

The advisory letter was intended to put all landfill operators, waste haulers, transfer station operators and local waste management officials on notice so that they can make sure they are following the law, Hatton said.

Hatton said the waste management division is working with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and its Radiation Health Branch on the investigation. He said the health cabinet regulates radioactive materials, radioactive waste and disposal under terms of a compact with the state of Illinois.

He said state officials plan to meet again with the Blue Ridge Landfill’s operators, Florida-based Advance Disposal, to learn more about how the waste was handled and whether any workers or others might have been exposed. He said there is no reason to believe that there is any ongoing exposure at that dump.

“The best we know, the material has been buried since November,” he said.

While the health cabinet is taking the lead, Hatton said the waste division is also investigating potential enforcement actions.

Kentucky does not have a landfill designed to safely accept low-level radioactive waste, which often includes radioactively contaminated protective clothing, tools, filters, rags and medical tubes. Radioactivity of this category can range from just above background levels to very highly radioactive in cases such as parts from inside a reactor vessel in a nuclear power plant, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

No acceptable dump

The drilling waste is called TENORM, from the term technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material. It comes from such activities as manufacturing, mineral extraction or water processing, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA says radioactivity in TENORM can vary greatly.

Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, senior deputy commissioner at the Kentucky Department for Public Health, said authorities do not know the concentration or radioactivity levels of the material brought into Kentucky. Testing in Estill County now shows no radiation beyond normal background levels, he said.

The state health department is working to assess any risk to employees or others at the time of the placement of the material in the landfill, the agency said in a written statement.

“Legal action against the firm that engaged in the illegal dumping and the landfill that accepted the contaminated material is under review,” the statement said.

Louisville attorney Tom Fitzgerald, director of the Kentucky Resources County and an expert on waste disposal, said the notice sent out Monday by the state underscores concerns about environmental consequences from booming oil and gas fracking zones.

Every county in Kentucky with a landfill needs to have agreements with their owners and operators that ban this kind of waste, he said.

The radionuclides in the waste can have a half-life of more than 1,000 years while liners used in municipal solid waste landfills are warranted typically for only 30 years, FitzGerald said. A half-life is the amount of time required for half the atoms in a radioactive substance to disintegrate.

The Estill County High School and Middle School are located across Kentucky Highway 89 from the landfill.

“Our number one concern is for those kids out there,” Ronnie Riddell, Estill County Emergency Management Agency director, said. “It’s concerning.”

He said Estill County is looking to the health and family services cabinet for information and guidance, adding that he only learned of the dumping from a news reporter on Thursday.

Landfill operator reaction

Hatton said West Virginia-based Fairmont Brine Processing produced the waste, which was brought to the Estill landfill by Advanced TENORM Services, based in West Liberty, Ky. Calls to Fairmont were not returned, and the CJ could not reach Jason Hoskins, the West Liberty man identified as TENORM Services sole officer in state business filings. That company’s website was not functioning Thursday.

“We are working with the state and trying to determine who’s on first base,” Charles Law, general manager of Blue Ridge Landfill, said. He said the matter was being handled farther up the corporate ladder, and declined further comment except to say that there were “gray areas” in how the material got to the landfill.

“We accepted it under normal landfill practices,” he said when asked whether his company knew the material was radioactive.

The letter from the waste management division reminded landfill and transfer station operators and haulers, that it’s their responsibility to make sure they comply with state regulations regarding the handling and disposal of radioactive materials.

FitzGerald said state officials need to track down and account for all of these radioactive wastes that came into Kentucky, and then make sure they do not pose a long-term threat to the public. For the Estill dump, that may mean extracting any closed containers and dispose of them in a licensed low-level nuclear waste dump, he said.

Any landfills that accepted the waste will need to extend the length of time that operators are responsible for any pollution to account for the long-lived radionuclides, he said.

Reach reporter James Bruggers at 502-582-4645 and at jbruggers@courier-journal.com.

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