U.S. Army must remove depleted uranium

SALLY MAXWELL, SEQUOYAH COUNTY NEWS, OKLAHOMA, NOVEMBER 1, 2006
Sequoyah Fuels, the former uranium processing plant near Gore, is one step closer to closing after a clause to have the U.S. Army remove depleted uranium from the plant was included in the Defense Authorization Act signed by President George W. Bush last week.
John Ellis, Sequoyah Fuels president, said Tuesday that the Army should be making plans to remove the depleted uranium soon.
“I’m assuming they’ll move it pretty quickly,” Ellis said. “The deadline to remove the materials is March 31.”
The depleted uranium, a bright green powder, is stored in 1,000 55-gallon drums. Ellis said the amount stored at Sequoyah Fuels is enough to fill about 50 semi-trailer loads.
“It’s very low radiation, and is about the color of a really bright green lawn,” Ellis explained, adding there is no use for the depleted uranium other than armor-piercing bullets, which the Army no longer uses.
He has no idea where the depleted uranium will be taken. That decision is up to the Army he said. Two possibilities are Nevada, “Where they tested the atomic bomb,” or a site in Utah.
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Closed since 1993, Sequoyah Fuels has been in the long process of closing ever since. To do so Sequoyah Fuels owners must have the approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other government organizations.
Ellis said the Oklahoma legislative delegation helped with the removal of the depleted uranium. U.S. Congressman Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) worked on getting the language in the Defense Authorization Act requiring removal of the depleted uranium by the U.S. Army.
Nick Choate, with Boren’s office in Washington, D.C., said he talked to Army officials Tuesday to make plans for the removal.
Sequoyah Fuels, which originally processed uranium for fuel rods for nuclear power generators, sold the depleted uranium to the U.S. Army for armor-piercing ammunition.
“The Army converted the depleted uranium to a heavy metal for armor-piercing bullets,” Ellis said.
Ellis said Sequoyah Fuels still has several other materials to dispose of or bury in a specially-designed cell.
When the site is finally closed, the U.S. Department of Energy has agreed to take possession of the plant site and between 100 and 300 acres surrounding the site.
“The Department of Energy is going to be the owner of the property,” Ellis said.
Before then Ellis said he must dispose of a large amount of raffinate sludge. Raffinate sludge is a by-product of the first step in the processing of uranium, Ellis explained.
“I have 11,000 one-ton bags of raffinate sludge, with most of the water removed, waiting to be shipped,” Ellis said.
He explained that the raffinate still contains some uranium, which can be processed out. Several companies are considering buying the material because, Ellis said, the remaining uranium in the raffinate sludge is worth between $43 and $44 per pound.
Sequoyah Fuels will also soon be demolishing buildings, cutting up equipment, and gathering low-contaminated soils to place in a storage cell, which will be on the site.
“Everything will be gone but the office building,” Ellis said.
He added he expects it will take about three years to clean up the rest of the site and place the contaminated materials in the on-site cell.
“It will take about another year to transfer ownership to the Department of Energy, and at least five years to completely close the plant,” Ellis said.
He concluded that he plans to retired at that time.

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