A nuclear dump in western Pennsylvania could contain far more waste than originally thought, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s inspector general said in a new report.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Thursday released the report, which found that missing or incomplete records make it impossible to know how much nuclear material is buried at the site about 30 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The NRC said the former president of a company that made nuclear fuel at the site believes that the documents used for the current cleanup plan “grossly underestimate” the material buried there.
Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp., or NUMEC, made nuclear fuel for submarines at a nearby plant and owned the dump site from 1957 until the 1980s. Shallow trenches were used to dispose of radioactive wastes.
Casey said in a statement that the report “raises serious concerns about the NRC’s oversight” of the cleanup, and he urged quicker action to finish the project.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been involved in the cleanup since 2002, but it halted work in May 2012 when crews discovered unanticipated amounts of “complex” materials such as uranium and plutonium. That prompted Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, to ask for the investigation.
Daniel Sprau, a radiation-safety expert at East Carolina University, said authorities need to determine how much radioactive material is at the site and “need to start cleaning up.” He added that the uncertainty means “the psychological effects are really high” for the surrounding community, no matter what the actual health risks turn out to be.
The inspector general also found that the NRC doesn’t have enforcement authority while the site is under the Corps of Engineers’ purview. The NRC is working with the Corps and the Department of Energy on a new memorandum so cleanup work can resume.
The NRC estimates that the project will be finished in 2020.