EDITOR: What are the facts concerning the hazardous materials generated by the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant? What is meant by "cleaning up" the plant and surrounding area? Can we be certain that our air, creeks, ponds, groundwater, and surrounding soil are uncontaminated by toxic waste and radioactive elements such as uranium-238 and plutonium?
If we settle for the "official" word from those in charge we may never know the truth. Do we trust our officials to make decisions regarding our health, even after they have betrayed us?
Can we take action that will lead to the safe removal and/or storage of the hazardous materials generated at the gaseous diffusion plant? Will we? Do we want to continue giving silent consent to the abuse of public trust displayed by policymakers and managers responsible for determining future directions for the uranium enrichment plant and its waste?
People, we can each make a proactive response to this seemingly complex problem. We can demand to know the facts regarding the gaseous diffusion plant. We can learn about the Vortec vitrification process, which is the only solution being pursued by our officials.
Did you know that the entire project is one big experiment and if it works, McCracken County will become a receiving and processing center for unknown quantities of hazardous waste from all over the country? Did you know that the Vortec agency officials are uncertain whether the vitrification processes pose a threat to public health and safety? They cannot predict how much dioxin (considered by scientists to be the most toxic synthetically produced chemical) will be emitted into the air by the process or even whether the end product will be stable or radioactive. They do not know what they will do with the resulting hazardous waste created by the process.
Do you want to be part of yet another experiment that can affect our environment so adversely on such a grand scale?
We must stop our silent consent and take action in order to set in motion our vision of a healthy, beautiful, bountiful McCracken County. We must put an end to secrecy and demand the facts.
We can support the Site Specific Advisory Board's recommendation to include the Vortec incinerator in Secretary Richardson's incinerator moratorium. Further, we can demand that the Vortec incinerator experiment be stopped until a full blown environmental impact study is conducted and recommendations made public.
We must voice our concerns at the local, state and federal levels by writing or calling our political officials. Let us voice our opinions and in that way put an end to further contamination of McCracken County.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a response from Dr. James G. Hnat, president and CEO of Vortec Corporation.
Vortec best technology for processing hazardous waste
EDITOR: Vortec Corporation would like to comment on concerns brought up by several citizens regarding the proposed demonstration of the Vortec vitrification process at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
First, we share their concern over protection of the environment and human health. This is the mission of our company and the reason our vitrification technology was developed. Vortec is not in Paducah to make the situation worse, but to help correct a serious environmental and human health problem that has occurred over many years.
The technology is not experimental. The technology we have developed has been identified by the United States Enviromental Protection Agency as the "best demonstrated available technology" (BDAT) for the processing of selected hazardous industrial wastes. The technology is already in commercial use for industrial waste applications, and the objective of the DOE demonstration is to validate its performance in the processing of specific DOE radioactive wastes.
Because of public concern over the treatment of radioactive wastes, we have chosen a very conservative and responsible approach and will demonstrate the ability to process specific DOE waste before treatment is implemented.
The demonstration will be done with oversight from the EPA as well as the Kentucky Environmental Protection Cabinet. The operation of the facility will be validated with non-radioactive and non-hazardous wastes prior to the introduction of any radioactive or hazardous materials.
The technology has found favor within the environmental community because of its ability to transform problematic wastes into chemically stable glasses that can be safely stored for tens of thousands of years.
If a treatment process like the Vortec unit is not used, DOE may elect to landfill much of the waste at Paducah without treatment. Recent changes by the EPA regarding the disposal of PCB/radioactive contaminated waste now allow the direct landfill disposal of PCB-contaminated waste without regard to PCB concentration level.
This is not a better solution to the environmental problem we are facing than using a treatment process prior to disposal. Liners and containers break down over time. Then, hazardous materials that are stored in a container or disposed in a landfill still have the opportunity to leak into the environment.
If, on the other hand, the materials are treated through our vitrification process before disposal or storage, the radionuclides and hazardous metals become immobile, and will not become an environmental legacy, even if a liner or container fails.
I urge you to consider the following facts:
The Environmental Assessment that was completed in 1999 shows "no significant impact to the environment." The engineering and technical analysis performed concluded that, "on the basis of expert scientific and engineering judgment, dioxin and furan emissions are expected to be very low, or non-existent." The process conditions have been intentionally designed by Vortec to minimize the formation of dioxins and dibenzofurans within the process and to capture any air pollutants evolved in the process.
The air pollution control system that will be used with the process incorporates the latest technology advances in this field and takes into account emission measurements taken during the operation of our vitrification plants during commercial as well as pilot plant operations. Based on these data, we have determined the amount of air emissions that could be potentially generated in the process. For the Paducah system, we have designed an air pollution control system that effectively removes these air emissions to the satisfaction of the EPA and the Kentucky Environmental Protection Cabinet.
The Kentucky Environmental Protection Cabinet will not allow emissions that would prove harmful to human health and the environment. Further, the Kentucky Environmental Protection Cabinet and the EPA will require testing to prove that no emissions in excess of permit levels are made. If there were excess emissions, the Commonwealth of Kentucky would immediately terminate all operations of the vitrification process, as necessary, to protect human health and the environment.
In addition, both DOE and the Kentucky Environmental Protection Cabinet have said that Paducah will not become a central processing center for waste generated elsewhere.
Several of the individuals who have opposed our project persist in calling our technology "incineration." It is not incineration, it is "vitrification." There are many differences, which make vitrification better than incineration, one of which is the effective immobilization of the inorganic constituents. Another is the effective destruction of organic contaminants, including PCBs.
We strongly believe in the benefits of our technology and are committed to the completion of the demonstration project. The technology is ready now to begin deployment, as opposed to other technologies that may still be under development or cannot provide the same level of long-term chemical stability for the treated waste.
Finally, this project was publicly announced in May 1995. It has been open to more public comment and input than perhaps any other DOE project at Paducah or elsewhere. The public needs to be aware that landfilling this waste without treatment is not the answer.
DR. JAMES G. HNAT