The cost of cleaning up radioactive contamination at the Nucor Steel mill is approaching $2 million, and company officials are concerned there are no disposal facilities to handle the waste.
Larry A. Roos, plant manager and vice president, said the $2 million figure does not include disposal of 850 tons of fly ash that was contaminated with cesium 137, a man-made radioactive material.The waste is being stored in eight railroad cars parked near the plant until a permanent disposal site is found.
Because the material is radioactive and contains elevated levels of lead, it fits the federal definition of a "mixed waste." There are presently no disposal facilities in the nation which are authorized to accept this category of waste.
"That's got us concerned about cost and when and if we can dispose of the material," Roos said. He noted that other steel mills with similar problems have been forced to store their waste for as long as five years before finding a disposal site.
Nucor encountered problems in March when it accidentally accepted a load of scrap metal that contained a medical or engineering device with a small quantity of cesium 137.
When the scrap was fed into the plant's furnace, the lead shield on the device melted, the cesium vaporized and was drawn into the air-cleaning system. The ash collected in the air cleaners is sold to a contractor who uses it in the production of fertilizer. The problem was identified when a load of fertilizer triggered radiation alarms.
Roos said Nucor is installing more sensitive radiation detectors at the plant to prevent a repeat of the problem. New equipment checks all the incoming scrap metal, plus the fly ash and finished steel.
"We think we could catch 95 percent of the material coming into the plant now. The 5 percent we could miss, we'd catch the minute we melted it," he said.
Mary Kay Lazarus, spokeswoman for Geneva Steel, said the problems at Nucor have prompted managers at the Utah County plant to order a $70,000 system to check for radioactive materials in scrap metal entering the plant. Geneva did not purchase monitors for its fly ash or finished steel.
Geneva's new monitors will be erected on either side of the railroad track on which trains loaded with scrap metal are hauled into the plant. The equipment is sensitive enough to detect most radioactive devices.
Larry Anderson, director of the Utah Bureau of Radiation Control, praised Geneva's decision to install radiation monitors.
"I think it's something they really owe the community. If one of those (radioactive) sources got into Geneva, it could get all over. They're sitting right there on the west edge of Orem. It could damage homes and businesses," he said.