Tennesseans need to "wake up" to the state's popularity as a destination for radioactive waste, an author of a report released earlier this week said Thursday.
A spokesman for the state agency that regulates landfills in Tennessee, however, said Tennessee is not alone as a state in allowing "very low-level" radioactive material in landfills.
Diane D'Arrigo is one author of "Out of Control - On Purpose: DOE's Dispersal of Radioactive Waste into Landfills and Consumer Products."
She spoke Thursday during a press conference called by the Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN).
"You're being kept in the dark about what's going on," D'Arrigo said. "And I'm here to say ‘wake up.'"
The report, published by the activist Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), says Tennessee is a leader in the number of licensed processors that can release radioactive materials into landfills.
Dana Coleman, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said there's a reason for the number of such processors in the state.
"Tennessee is unique in that it has more waste processors than other states due primarily to the role played by the Oak Ridge Reservation in the development of atomic energy," Coleman told the Times-News. "Tennessee is not the only state, however, that allows very low-level radioactive material in landfills."
Coleman described the "Out of Control" report as having "a number of factual errors and misrepresentations."
"The NIRS has issued a report critical of Tennessee's Bulk Survey For Release (BSFR) program," Coleman said. "The report confuses Department of Energy self-regulated practices with commercial nuclear energy activities regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Agreement States, and has a number of factual errors and misrepresentations, including its portrayal of Tennessee's BSFR program."
The TCWN also used the event to release its own report on leaking landfills in the state.
TCWN Director of Community Organizing Rachael Bliss said 31 percent of landfills in Tennessee are leaking.
Not so, said Coleman.
"There are 38 active Class I landfills in Tennessee, and composite liner systems are one of the many requirements we have for modern-day Class I landfills," Coleman said. "Of those 38 landfills, there are 15 in assessment monitoring, but it's important to understand what that means. Assessment monitoring simply means there is a requirement on those landfills to conduct additional sampling because there has been a detection of some constituent in the groundwater above background levels.
"If the expanded sampling detects a statistically significant increase, then the landfill owner must submit a sampling plan to the department and within 90 days evaluate corrective measures to be taken to address the problem. Often the problem is quickly corrected, such as a broken pipe, runoff from trucks, or methane gas intrusion. One of the things the department would look for in the increased sampling would be trends to identify cases where the integrity of the liner may be the cause. But again, a leak in the liner may not be that cause.
"Landfills are not required by regulation to take corrective actions until the groundwater protection standards are exceeded, though they certainly have that option. Once groundwater protection standards are reached, landfills are required by regulation to take corrective action."
Of the 15 active Class I landfills in assessment monitoring, 10 require only additional sampling and analyses of the existing monitoring system, while five require corrective action and assessment of the extent of contamination, Coleman said.
Those five landfills are White County, McMinn County, Chestnut Ridge in Knox County, New Jefferson County, and Morristown/Hamblen County.
Bliss said figures she obtained from TDEC for 2006 showed 225 permitted landfills in Tennessee and 69 - or 31 percent - were leaking.
Coleman said that was not an accurate description of the situation.
"There are, or were, approximately 225 permitted landfills - active and closed - of various types - Class I, II, II and IV - in Tennessee," Coleman said. "To say that 69, or 31 percent of these, are ‘leaking' is not accurate.
"If you look at both active and closed Class I landfills in assessment monitoring, there are 54. Many of those old, closed landfills operated prior to the current regulations for operation of landfills and the requirements for such things as composite liners.
"Of the entire 225, there are 69 in assessment monitoring. That includes the 54 mentioned above, plus another 15 active and closed Class II, III and IV landfills. The levels detected at 21 of these require only additional sampling and analyses of the existing monitoring system. The levels detected at the remaining 48 landfills require assessment of the extent of contamination and corrective action measures. Again, the majority of these 48 sites are closed landfills that operated prior to existing regulations."
D'Arrigo said Tennessee is popular among the nation's producers of radioactive waste because the state is one of their cheapest options when it comes to disposing of the waste.
She said a lack of public awareness that radioactive waste is even allowed at some landfills is one reason the state remains a cheap option.
The landfill off Carters Valley Road in Hawkins County, for example, is one of four Class I landfills in the state authorized to accept radioactive materials, said D'Arrigo.
Coleman confirmed that statement.
"There are four landfills authorized to receive wastes under the BSFR program," Coleman said. "They are the Chestnut Ridge landfill facility in Heiskell (Knox County), North Shelby County, Middle Point in Rutherford County, and Carters Valley in Hawkins County."
There are currently four licensees in the state authorized to conduct the BSFR program - IMPACt, RACE, Toxco and Duratek/Energy Solutions, Coleman said.
"Nuclear power plants or other entities with very low-level radioactive material may send their waste to one of the four licensees," Coleman said. "The materials may be evaluated at the generator's site before going to the licensee's facility for required sampling and analysis. The sampling and measurement process must indicate the material meets BSFR criteria prior to it being disposed of as part of this program. It would further have to pass through detection monitors at the landfill site.
"The criteria are extremely conservative for accepting material under the BSFR program. BSFR waste cannot contribute more than 5 percent of the total landfill waste, and it cannot contribute a dose of more than 1 millirem per year to any member of the public. To put that in perspective, the public is exposed to approximately 300 millirems per year in Tennessee from naturally occurring radiation in the environment."
D'Arrigo and others at the TCWN press conference, however, said they are concerned about the cumulative effect of doses - and what they perceive as an unknown potential toxicity from the mixture of radioactive waste with chemicals and other materials over time.
TDEC is in the process of implementing improvements in the BSFR program that will make it even more protective by requiring additional and more detailed sampling methodology and practices, Coleman said.
"Any material that does not meet the strict requirements of the BSFR program would need to be disposed of in a radioactive waste facility, of which there are three commercial facilities in the United States," Coleman said. "By allowing waste that does not pose any significant risk to be disposed of under the BSFR program, space in the limited number of radioactive waste facilities can be conserved for the material that truly requires that type of disposal."
To read "Out of Control - On Purpose: DOE's Dispersal of Radioactive Waste into Landfills and Consumer Products" visit www.nirs.org/radwaste/ outofcontrol/outofcontrol.htm.