EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This report examines the existing and proposed modification of a waste containment structure at the DOE Niagara Falls Storage Site (NFSS) in Lewiston, NY, used since 1949 to store highly radioactive residues separated during the processing of very rich uranium ores from the former Belgian Congo (now Zaire). The high-level residues remaining after the removal of uranium have been stored at the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works (LOOW) since 1949 (prior to 1949, the residues were returned to the African Metals Corporation of Belgium). The present area of the LOOW, reduced in size, is now known as the NFSS. The high-level residues, along with other, less radioactive residues and wastes, are presently stored at NFSS, buried under an interim cap to prevent influx of moisture from precipitation and outflux of radon gas.

At the request of the Office of Environmental Restoration of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the National Research Council (NRC) agreed to identify issues or concerns with (a) the existing waste containment structure that requires consideration of immediate, short-term action, and (b) long-term risks posed by the structure to the surrounding population and environment. The NRC passed this request to the Committee on Remediation of Buried and Tank Wastes to accomplish this study.

This report provides background information on the past, present, and planned future handling and storage of the NFSS high-level residues based on presentations from DOE and its contractors, a review of documents pertaining to the study, and a visit to the site, during which time the residents of the area and others had the opportunity to express their views and concerns. The Committee's conclusions and recommendations are listed below; more detailed discussion and explanation can be found in the text of the report.

Conclusions

  1. Available site sampling and monitoring information indicates that there is no immediate hazard to the off-site public from the residues in their present configuration.

  2. The high-level residues pose a potential long-term risk to the public, given the existing environmental conditions and future unpredictability, if they are left permanently at the NFSS.

  3. The proposed actions of replacing the interim cap with a “permanent” cap and of long-term site maintenance and monitoring do not address the potential risks to the public for the long periods of time commensurate with the duration of that potential risk.



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SAFETY OF THE HIGH-LEVEL URANIUM ORE RESIDUES AT THE NIAGARA FALLS STORAGE SITE, LEWISTON, NEW YORK EXECUTIVE SUMMARY This report examines the existing and proposed modification of a waste containment structure at the DOE Niagara Falls Storage Site (NFSS) in Lewiston, NY, used since 1949 to store highly radioactive residues separated during the processing of very rich uranium ores from the former Belgian Congo (now Zaire). The high-level residues remaining after the removal of uranium have been stored at the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works (LOOW) since 1949 (prior to 1949, the residues were returned to the African Metals Corporation of Belgium). The present area of the LOOW, reduced in size, is now known as the NFSS. The high-level residues, along with other, less radioactive residues and wastes, are presently stored at NFSS, buried under an interim cap to prevent influx of moisture from precipitation and outflux of radon gas. At the request of the Office of Environmental Restoration of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the National Research Council (NRC) agreed to identify issues or concerns with (a) the existing waste containment structure that requires consideration of immediate, short-term action, and (b) long-term risks posed by the structure to the surrounding population and environment. The NRC passed this request to the Committee on Remediation of Buried and Tank Wastes to accomplish this study. This report provides background information on the past, present, and planned future handling and storage of the NFSS high-level residues based on presentations from DOE and its contractors, a review of documents pertaining to the study, and a visit to the site, during which time the residents of the area and others had the opportunity to express their views and concerns. The Committee's conclusions and recommendations are listed below; more detailed discussion and explanation can be found in the text of the report. Conclusions Available site sampling and monitoring information indicates that there is no immediate hazard to the off-site public from the residues in their present configuration. The high-level residues pose a potential long-term risk to the public, given the existing environmental conditions and future unpredictability, if they are left permanently at the NFSS. The proposed actions of replacing the interim cap with a “permanent” cap and of long-term site maintenance and monitoring do not address the potential risks to the public for the long periods of time commensurate with the duration of that potential risk.

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SAFETY OF THE HIGH-LEVEL URANIUM ORE RESIDUES AT THE NIAGARA FALLS STORAGE SITE, LEWISTON, NEW YORK An important alternative, that of solidifying the high-level residues on site and shipping the solidified residues to an off-site location, has not been considered, even though this alternative was chosen for managing essentially identical residues of common origin currently stored in silos at the Fernald Environmental Management Project (FEMP) site in Ohio. If this alternative is considered, the occupational as well as public health and safety aspects are important. Inputs from waste treatment technology projects, such as the project for handling similar residues now being implemented at the FEMP site, will provide important information for making such assessments. The present and potential future interactions between the NFSS and disposal sites adjacent to the NFSS, where non-radioactive toxic chemical and landfill wastes are currently disposed, have not been addressed adequately, either in the NFSS final environmental impact statement (FEIS) or in subsequent studies and documentation. The potential future health hazards posed by non-radiological, toxic materials such as lead and barium that are constituents of the buried high-level residues at NFSS have not been adequately assessed. There are substantial uncertainties in the estimates of costs and associated risks for managing the residues at NFSS that have not been fully addressed. Current site monitoring activities are inadequate for the determination of long-term site integrity and potential future risks to the public and the environment from the movement off-site of radioactive and non-radioactive wastes in the NFSS containment structure, as well as the possible influx of waste materials from the disposal sites adjacent to the NFSS. Recommendations The Committee makes the following recommendations for future actions by DOE to manage the NFSS high-level residues in a way that provides protection to the health and safety of the public and the environment, both in the short and long terms. Following completion of related or similar treatment technology studies such as the FEMP vitrification demonstration and related cost-risk-benefit studies, a program should be developed by DOE for removal, treatment, and disposal off-site of the NFSS high-level residues. Because there is no immediate hazard to the off-site public from the residues in their present configuration, such studies will help ensure proper handling of the residues when they are removed for disposal, as well as to provide an example for future remediation of other sites containing radioactive residues. After removal of the high-level residues, remaining wastes should be buried under a suitable protective cap.

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SAFETY OF THE HIGH-LEVEL URANIUM ORE RESIDUES AT THE NIAGARA FALLS STORAGE SITE, LEWISTON, NEW YORK The adequacy of site monitoring and maintenance activities necessary to ensure the safety of the public and the integrity of the NFSS should be assured. An alternative NFSS monitoring strategy should be developed to measure and track transport of radiological and chemical contaminants from the NFSS waste containment structure, as well as those reaching NFSS from contiguous waste disposal areas off site, both prior to and following removal of the residues.

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