published Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Bankruptcy spurs questions about nuclear waste safety in Tennessee

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  • photo
    Sammy Jones, chief operating officer for IMPACT Services Inc., visits the former Theragenics Corp. building in Oak Ridge.
    Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

An Oak Ridge, Tenn., firm storing 1 million pounds of scrap radioactive material has filed bankruptcy, leaving Tennessee environmental regulators watching the case "closely" to see what will happen to the waste.

Impact Services Inc. filed for Chapter 7 liquidation May 24 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., and "shut its doors" on May 18, according to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Meg Lockhart.

"Staff members from the Department of Environment and Conservation's Division of Radiological Health were sent to the site on Monday, May 21," she said. "Impact also had staff at the facility, including a radiation safety officer. The material was secure and the company was in the process of trying to determine what its options are moving forward."

The company, according to its website, is a radioactive waste processing facility that provides decontamination services to low-level radioactive component parts and scrap from commercial nuclear reactors.

Impact officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

But filings in the bankruptcy case say the company "does not believe that the current storage and processing of the low-level radioactive waste currently poses a threat of imminent and identifiable harm to the public health or safety."

But the document goes on to say that the material "may pose a threat of imminent and identifiable harm to public health and safety" if not handled properly.

The statement is signed by Impact Services Secretary Darrell Lauterbach.

Lockhart said the state and the facility's appointed bankruptcy trustee have planned a conference call this week to discuss the next steps.

"The company is saying that about 60 to 70 percent of [the 1 million pounds of scrap low-level radioactive waste stored in Oak Ridge] can be returned to the generators," Lockhart said. "If that is the case, it would leave about 400,000 pounds that would need to be addressed."

She said the state holds a $1.2 million surety bond "to cover the liabilities incurred when a facility abandons their responsibility to maintain the site in a safe condition."

Lockhart said it is "simply too early" to speculate on future plans for the facility.

"But the question has been asked -- if the Oak Ridge facilities are purchased via bankruptcy, is the Radioactive Material License transferable to the new owner? It is my understanding that until it is terminated, the existing license could be transferred to an otherwise qualified applicant," Lockhart said.

TVA does not use Impact Services Inc. as a contractor for its low-level radioactive waste, such as plant parts and disposable suits and cleaning materials, said TVA spokesman Ray Golden.

Contact staff writer Pam Sohn at 423-757-6346 or psohn@timesfreepress.com.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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