Oak Ridge

DOE Extends Deadline Regarding CERLA Cleanup at the Oak Ridge Reservation

The U.S. Department of Energy has extended the comment deadline regarding its plan for providing additional onsite disposal capacity for waste generated from CERLA cleanup at the Oak Ridge Reservation to Jan. 9. The proposal has been controversial to residents in the area, with some signing off on a letter sent to Oakridger voicing opposition to the agency’s plan. The DOE will accept comments any time prior to the deadline. You can send your feedback via email to john.japp@orem.doe.gov, or mail them to John Michael Japp at P.O. Box 2001, Oak Ridge, TN 37831.

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Lawsuit Involving Construction of Oak Ridge Uranium Processing Facility Moved to Knoxville

A federal lawsuit that asks for an environmental review of the new multi-building design for the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 National Security Complex has been transferred from Washington, D.C., to Knoxville, reports Oak Ridge Today. The transfer was requested in September by the defendants, U.S. Energy Secretary James Richard “Rick” Perry and Frank G. Klotz, former administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Energy that manages nuclear weapons programs and facilities. United States District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich, who was assigned the case in December, granted the motion to transfer the lawsuit from the District of Columbia to U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee on March 23.
The complaint argues that a new environmental impact statement should be prepared for the new design for the UPF, the largest federal construction project in Tennessee since World War II. The plaintiffs allege that the use of several old buildings at Y-12 to house nuclear weapons work is risky because the old buildings could collapse during a major earthquake, possibly leading to a nuclear accident that could cause the release of radiological materials. Federal officials denied that allegation and others in a 29-page answer filed Sept. 29, 2017, calling the allegations vague, ambiguous or speculative, adding that safety and technical analyses are underway at Y-12.
The plaintiffs previously listed the reasons for filing their complaint in the District of Columbia, citing the fact that multi-building UPF was made by a federal agency in the Washington, D.C., area; the named defendants are (or were) located there; and the information that the NNSA allegedly failed to consider originated in other federal agencies in the nation’s capital. The plaintiffs also said the important issues raised in the litigation — issues regarding the safety of the nation’s nuclear weapons program are “issues of overriding national significance and interest,” which favored keeping the case in Washington, D.C.
The defendants, however, asked to move the lawsuit to East Tennessee stating, “This question should be decided in the Eastern District of Tennessee, where the Y-12 Complex is located,” a September 28 memorandum supporting its motion to transfer. “The matters at issue, in this case, are local at every turn,” the government attorneys said.
Granting the motion to transfer, Friedrich said private and public interest factors both weigh in favor of moving the case to East Tennessee.“There is a substantial local interest in having this action decided in Tennessee,” she said. “The potential health and environmental effects in the locality of the Y-12 Complex and its surrounding areas present unique hazards that gravely impact residents in the Eastern District of Tennessee."
The Y-12 complex was built to enrich uranium for atomic weapons as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II, and it remains the nation’s primary site for processing and storing highly enriched uranium used in nuclear weapons.
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Governor Approves Oak Ridge Property Transfer Under CERCLA § 120(h)

On April 18, 2017, Governor Bill Haslam signed an approval for a property transfer of 6.7 acres of the area known as K-1065 from the Department of Energy (DOE) to the non-profit Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee. K-1065 is part of East Tennessee Technology Park, Heritage Center (ETTP). 
This part of the Oak Ridge Reservation dates back to the World War II Manhattan Project, and from 1945-1985, the complex enriched uranium for the commercial nuclear power industry. In 1987, the Department of Energy (DOE) ended uranium enrichment operations, and in 1989 extensive demolition and cleanup of the property began.
The DOE has made significant progress in the demolition and cleanup, including the removal of all five former gaseous diffusion plants. To achieve DOE’s next goal, titled Vision 2020, it is working towards removing K-1037, the Poplar Creek Facilities, the Central Neutralization Facility, the TSCA Incinerator, and the centrifuge facilities.
The DOE’s goal for the property is to complete cleanup and transfer the whole ETTP Heritage Center property to a non-profit, the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee, to bring the land back into productive use for commercial industrial operations. But since cleanup is not yet finished, CERCLA § 120(h) requires approval of both the EPA and the Governor before the land can be transferred through a Covenant Deferral Request. CERCLA, the Federal Facilities Agreement, and Tennessee’s Hazardous Waste Management Act require certain warranties, restrictions, and notices to be on a deed for any transfer where cleanup is not finished. These include:
  • Notice of the contaminant history and areas of concern. For the K-1065 area, there are several groundwater plumes, and the contaminants of concern include several volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including 1,1,1-trichloroethane, 1,1-dichloroethane, 1,1-dichloroethene (DCE), 1,2-DCE, 2-butanone, carbon tetrachloride, tetrachloroethene, and trichloroethene (TCE).
  • Land use restrictions based on the extent of contamination. In this case, the restrictions included limiting the property to industrial use, prohibitions on using the groundwater, vapor intrusion restrictions, and prohibitions on digging deeper than ten feet without TDEC, EPA, and DOE approval.
  • Warranties that DOE will still be responsible for continuing the corrective action after the transfer and remediation of any contamination that is found subsequent to the transfer.
  • Warranties granting the DOE access to the property to continue the cleanup.
  • Warranties that the DOE will submit federal budget requests to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to continue funding for the cleanup.
Industry is now leasing the property from the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee, and the land is back in productive use. In June of 2017 DOE submitted another request to transfer another piece of the ETTP property, so the process is continuing. 
Additional Information / Sources:
Robert "Jaz" Boon is a Middle Tennessee Delegate for the Tennessee Bar Association's Environmental Law Section. Boon holds degrees from David Lipscomb University and the Belmont University College of Law.
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