A federal report on a Pennsylvania radioactive-waste dump raises questions about the adequacy of government cleanup plans there and reinforces concerns that troubling amounts of bomb-grade uranium could be buried at the site, which is located near homes.
The report on the Shallow Land Disposal Area, by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s office of inspector general, was made public Thursday. It found that incomplete historical records make it impossible to determine “with certainty what is buried on the SLDA site and in what precise locations.”
The report said the same is true for whether burials of atomic waste at the site, which occurred decades ago, were done in compliance with federal regulations. The report said “indirect evidence” suggests those rules might have been broken.
The former president of the company that buried much of the waste told investigators that the records used in the past by federal authorities “grossly underestimate” the amount of material at the western Pennsylvania site, the report said. A former company scientist said he believed past federal estimates didn’t represent even 5% of the waste buried.
After years of planning to remove and haul away the waste, the Army Corps of Engineers, the lead federal agency in the cleanup effort, stopped digging after just several weeks. Corps officials said a contractor at the site had violated cleanup safety procedures, and that an unexpectedly large amount of “complex material” had been encountered. They declined to be more specific.
Parts of the report made public Thursday support arguments made by local activist Patricia Ameno. For a quarter-century, she has been fighting to have the SLDA waste dug up and hauled away. She has collected hundreds of thousands of documents related to Numec and the dumpsite, and has argued that the government has underestimated the extent of material buried there.
Ms. Ameno and her battle over the SLDA were the subject of a Wall Street Journal article last November, part of a series of reports the newspaper did on the radioactive legacy of the U.S. nuclear-weapons program.
Ms. Ameno supplied the inspector general’s probe with documents—185,200 historical files in electronic form, according to the report. The report said it also reviewed over 500 historical documents from the NRC.
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