Empty uranium cylinders from Tennessee shipped to Nevada, Utah

Empty uranium cylinders from Tennessee shipped to Nevada, Utah

The U.S. Department of Energy has removed some 118 million pounds of uranium hexafluoride from its reservation in Oak Ridge three years ahead of the mandated deadline from the state and within budget.

The uranium compounds were left over from the government’s uranium enrichment process for nuclear weapons and fuel at Oak Ridge. Operations were ended in 1985, and the site is currently being cleaned up to be an industrial park. Outdoor storage yards that contained the waste required daily security and maintenance.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation ordered DOE to remove the uranium hexafluoride by Dec. 31, 2009.

The project to remove about 6,000 cylinders, some weighing as much as 14 tons, and truck them to Ohio cost $27.5 million, and there were no major safety issues.

“We’re glad to have the cylinders gone,” John Owsley, the state’s environmental oversight chief in Oak Ridge, told The Knoxville News Sentinel.

The cylinders posed the highest radiation threat to visitors at the site, he said.

“While there were sufficient controls in place, it was a concern,” Owsley said.

The first shipment left in March 2004 after years of debate between officials in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“For a long time, it didn’t look like they’d ever get rid of those cylinders,” said Susan Gawarecki, executive director of the Local Oversight Committee, which evaluates environmental projects for local governments in the Oak Ridge area.

“We’re very pleased they’ve had such great success. I think there were one or two little incidents – no spills or crashes or disasters. What more could you ask for?”

Most of the uranium-loaded cylinders were trucked to Piketon, Ohio, where the uranium is being converted to a safer oxide form and hydrogen fluoride is being extracted and sold commercially, officials said.

Hundreds of empty cylinders were shipped to disposal sites in Nevada or Utah. The trucks hauling the waste traveled more than 3.6 million miles over the past three years.

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