Casey Calls for Inspector General Investigation Into Federal Government’s Handling Of Armstrong County Nuclear Site

Unanswered Questions, Concerns Raised by Residents Merit Independent Investigation, Senator Says

Casey Calls for Full, Timely and Effective Cleanup of Site

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Inspector General to conduct an independent investigation into the federal government’s handling of a former nuclear site in Armstrong County.

In a letter to the agency’s Inspector General, Casey cited unanswered questions about the way the site has been handled and concerns by residents in asking for the investigation. The NRC has an oversight role in the project while the Army Corps is charged with cleanup.

“An independent investigation is needed to get to the bottom of what’s occurring at the Armstrong County nuclear site,” Casey said. “Residents deserve an effective and timely cleanup and an assurance that all the relevant federal agencies are working together to solve this issue.”

The NRC's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) was established as an independent and objective unit to conduct and supervise audits and conduct investigations relating to NRC's programs and operations. The purpose of OIG's audits and investigations is to prevent and detect fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, and promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in NRC programs and operations.

In his letter calling for a full investigation, Casey asked pointed questions of the Inspector General:

1.         Is NRC fully complying with the 2001 “Memorandum of Understanding Between the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Coordination of Cleanup and Decommissioning of the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) Sites With NRC-Licensed Facilities?”

2.         Does NRC have in place performance measures and controls to provide reasonable assurance that NRC fully complies with and meets its obligations under the MOU?

3.         Has NRC properly evaluated USACE’s Work Plans to determine if they meet regulatory requirements?

4.         In September 2007, USACE issued the final Record of Decision for the site, selecting the NRC radiological criteria for unrestricted use standard in 10 CFR 20.1402 as the cleanup standard. Has NRC properly commented regarding USACE's remedial action contractor's conceptual design? Did NRC properly comment regarding contingencies in the design and the potential for criticality?

5.         Has NRC put in place proper controls to promote effective and efficient regulatory oversight and assure that site remediation activities occur in an effective and timely manner?

6.         Did NRC properly require compliance with rules regarding decommissioning of the site, including the “Final Rule on Timeliness in Decommissioning of Materials Facilities," 59 FR 36026, particularly where disposal of radioactive waste by land burial was made under the authorization of former 10 CFR 20.304?

7.         Did NRC ensure compliance with disposal of radioactive waste made under the authorization of former 10 CFR 20.304?

The full text of Casey’s letter can be seen below:

The Honorable Hubert T. Bell

Inspector General

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Dear Inspector General Bell:

I write regarding a nuclear waste disposal site in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that is currently undergoing remediation, the Shallow Land Disposal Area (SLDA) in Armstrong County. The waste from a nearby nuclear facility was historically disposed of in unlined trenches at the SLDA, purportedly in accordance with the Atomic Energy Commission regulation in effect at the time, 10 CFR 20.304 (rescinded in 1981).

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) under the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) is currently in charge of the site, with cooperation from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and other Federal partners. As you may know, USACE and NRC have in place a Memorandum of Understanding regarding FUSRAP sites.

I want to ensure that the NRC is cooperating fully, properly and in a timely manner with USACE, particularly because NRC previously oversaw decommissioning of the site. NRC formerly proposed to allow the licensee to implement a plan to decommission the site with modified stabilization of the waste trenches in place. This would have placed permanent restrictions on the use of the site, made it unavailable to the community for development, and created hazards if institutional controls of the site were lost. USACE was subsequently placed in charge of the site clean-up.

Remediation of the site must occur in a timely and effective manner. Above all, it is imperative that the cleanup of the site meet the highest standard for protecting human health and the environment.

I request that you investigate the following questions:

1.         Is NRC fully complying with the 2001 “Memorandum of Understanding Between the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Coordination of Cleanup and Decommissioning of the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) Sites With NRC-Licensed Facilities?”

2.         Does NRC have in place performance measures and controls to provide reasonable assurance that NRC fully complies with and meets its obligations under the MOU?

3.         Has NRC properly evaluated USACE’s Work Plans to determine if they meet regulatory requirements?

4.         In September 2007, USACE issued the final Record of Decision for the site, selecting the NRC radiological criteria for unrestricted use standard in 10 CFR 20.1402 as the cleanup standard. Has NRC properly commented regarding USACE's remedial action contractor's conceptual design? Did NRC properly comment regarding contingencies in the design and the potential for criticality?

5.         Has NRC put in place proper controls to promote effective and efficient regulatory oversight and assure that site remediation activities occur in an effective and timely manner?

6.         Did NRC properly require compliance with rules regarding decommissioning of the site, including the “Final Rule on Timeliness in Decommissioning of Materials Facilities," 59 FR 36026, particularly where disposal of radioactive waste by land burial was made under the authorization of former 10 CFR 20.304?

7.         Did NRC ensure compliance with disposal of radioactive waste made under the authorization of former 10 CFR 20.304?

I appreciate your attention to this important matter. I look forward to continuing working with you.

Sincerely,

Robert P. Casey, Jr.

United States Senator

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