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Alliance sounds alarm on contamination in Oak Ridge

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Wednesday, December 6, 2023   

A Knoxville-based environmental group is voicing health and safety concerns about the development of a landfill for radioactive waste from the Y12 Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge.

For six decades, Y12 has been processing and storing highly enriched uranium.

Tanvi Kardile, coordinator for the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, said her group is raising concerns to the community and lawmakers about what it sees as the environmental hazards and public health risks that come with creating a landfill for toxic waste.

"There's been some violations with the Clean Water Act," Kardile pointed out. "Right now, a radioactive waste landfill in Oak Ridge is approved to be built, but this required waiving the Clean Water Act rules. So, there's upcoming litigation around this."

Kardile noted the landfill concerns are in addition to the ongoing threat of radioactive contamination in Oak Ridge's land, water and air due to the Y12 weapons complex activities. She stressed the issue is not new, citing a lawsuit against the Department of Energy over mercury released decades ago. Critics of the uranium-enriching process say it poses safety and health risks to the community.

According to Kardile, she has spoken directly with Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration officials, raising her group's objections to the $8 billion Y12 processing facility over serious health concerns. But proponents of the weapons plant point to the jobs and economic impact it has for the local area.

"They're not concerned about environmental issues at all," Kardile observed. "They were like, 'This is necessary for our nation's security,' like building our nuclear weapons stockpile is 'necessary.' So, it's something that we have to do. And they also said that it provides jobs for people in the area."

Kardile acknowledged the Alliance does not want to see anyone lose their job, but said closing the facility would also provide employment opportunities through an extensive cleanup phase. The latest defense spending bill, approved by both houses of Congress in July, authorized $760 million for Y12's Uranium Processing Facility.

Disclosure: The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance contributes to our fund for reporting on Environment, Nuclear Waste, Peace, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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