The Maxey Flats Project (MFP), a low-level nuclear waste site near Hillsboro in Fleming County, has made substantial progress in becoming less hazardous to humans, according to State Rep. Mike Denham.
Denham represents House District 70, which includes Fleming, Mason and Bracken counties. He visited the facilities Thursday for an open house where MFP employees explained the work they do and offered educational information about radiation.
The MFP was placed on the National Priorities List in 1986 because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined soil, surface water and ground water were contaminated as a result of facility operations.
From 1963 to1977, Maxey Flats accepted 4.7 million cubic feet of radioactive waste and nearly 267 tons of source material.
The first steps toward remediation were taken between 1987 and 1991. The entire trench area has been covered with “capped material” since 1995.
“I just can’t get over how nice you have this place looking,” Denham told Scott Wilburn, MFP manager. “I want to thank you for the job you’re doing.”
The “capped material” is a geomembrane liner.
Tom Stewart, environmental technologist, walks the liner daily as part of his routine duties. He searches for leaks and punctures, and if he finds them, he and a crew follow extensive procedures to patch any holes.
He is not worried. MFP employees are trained to avoid radiation by shielding themselves and using time and distance.
“Mostly what we do is time and distance,” Stewart said, “because it’s almost impossible to restrict yourself from it. Where we’re in this restricted area, it’s just coming up out of the ground out of a place where we’re doing our work.”
When he’s finished, he and the rest of the crew scan themselves to make sure they don’t bring contamination out of the restricted area.
One of the MFP requirements is a five-year review by the EPA. The MFP received results from its third review in 2012.
The report states: “According to the data reviewed, the site inspection, and the interviews, the remedy is functioning as intended by the Record of Decision.”
According to the data reviewed, the site inspection, and the interviews, the remedy is functioning as intended by the ROD (Record of Decision).
The selected remedy at the MFDS is expected to be protective of human health and the environment at the conclusion of the RA (Remedial Action), and in the interim, exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled.
The MFP is now awaiting results from its trench stabilization report, which was submitted to the EPA. If the report is verified, the MFP will move on to its “final closure period (FCP).”
The FCP includes putting another “cap” on the waste. A permanent, earthen cap with layers of plastic will be covered with soil and vegetation.
Rep. Denham helped secure money for the final remedial phase.
The Kentucky General Assembly approved the budget for this phase of operations in 2012.
“I worked with state energy and EPA and with Sen. Walter Blevins this winter to get the money for the final cap, which is a $35 million project,” Denham said. “About half of that comes from the energy cabinet so we were able to put that $17 million in the budget to match what comes from the federal trust funds.”
Employees at the MFP stressed that even though they’ll be working on the final closure period, operations will continue indefinitely.
“It’s not over,” Stewart said. “That moves us into institutional control period and that’s federally mandated to last for 100 years, so that will be my grandchild’s problem.”
“The money will still have to come, it will still have to be monitored–the word they like to use is perpetuity - forever, because that stuff’s not going anywhere. There is nuclear waste in the ground so we have to monitor it and keep it contained.”
Wilburn says psychological problems were caused among residents after the dump site was shut down in 1977.
“That’s why I think these open houses are so important;” he said, “to educate. Things have changed.”
Rep. Denham’s father was instrumental in helping shut down the nuclear waste dump site in 1977, and that’s why Denham says he is dedicated to helping with the maintenance of the superfund site in any way he can.
“It will be as safe as humans can possibly make it and all the credit goes to the staff and the people that have worked here all these years,” Denham said.
According to a presentation at the open house, manual and automated surface water samples are collected every six hours and taken to the Maxey Flats onsite laboratories for processing.
The results are submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U. S. Department of Energy, the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and Demaximus, Inc., which is a contracted mediator.
“The hazard from the site itself to the public is very minimal,” Stewart said. “Back in the ‘70s, when they were doing disposal, the hazard to the workers was significant but it’s not really a public health concern.”
Jeff Stamper, environmental technologist, has been working on the MFP since 1979 when the Maxey Flats Disposal Site was taken over by the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
“We’ve not seen any change in the last 10 years,” Stamper said. “The trenches are pretty much stabilized and the wells around the site are pretty much stable. The job that’s been done is working and we want to continue to make sure it does.”
Activities in the remedial phase will include the design and selection of the final cap, which will be engineered into layers for runoff and erosion.
Once the cap is installed, maintenance activities in the restricted area will be reduced.
Nicole Sturgill can be reached at email@example.com or by telephone at 784-4116.