September 30, 2013

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Radiological and Hazardous Waste Disposal Facility Speeds Cold War Legacy Site Closure

ATLANTA, Ga. — Geosyntec Consultants received an Engineering Excellence award from the American Council of Engineering Companies for designing a 65-acre On-site Waste Disposal Facility (OSDF) for the Fernald Closure Project near Hamilton, Ohio. This eight-cell waste containment facility was developed to dispose of low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste generated during the 17-year demolition and clean-up of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Fernald site.

The Fernald Feed Production Center was a uranium processing plant under the Atomic Energy Commission and was operated by DOE until 1989. Over its history, the plant refined and machined 500 million pounds of uranium metals. After 1989, the site was placed on U.S. EPA's Superfund list due to land and groundwater contamination resulting from decades of operation. Through the Superfund process, the site was cleaned up and closed, with the OSDF being the keystone of that effort.

One of the most technologically advanced LLRW/RCRA disposal facilities in the world, Geosyntec designed the $220 million OSDF for a design life of at least 200 years, and up to 1,000 years to the extent achievable using available technology. Starting in 1995, Geosyntec began a series of extensive engineering evaluations to assure the facility's performance and ability to protect public health and safety into perpetuity. The facility is underlain by a double-composite liner system and capped with a 10-ft thick final cover system, with built-in redundancy, to safely contain the waste and control leachate, thereby protecting groundwater quality of one of the largest sole source drinking water aquifers in the nation. According to Johnny Reising, the DOE Project Director, "The OSDF project's technical challenges placed on Geosyntec were demanding. The design considers the 2,000-year and maximum probable floods and 2,400-year maximum credible earthquakes."

Geosyntec, contracted directly under DOE's site-wide management contractor Fluor Fernald, worked diligently to obtain project approval from the EPA and Ohio EPA. "It was a real accomplishment to meet EPA's fast-track regulatory approval schedule of 15 months," says Dr. Rudy Bonaparte, P.E., Geosyntec's President and original engineer-of-record for the project, "but it was even a greater testament to the technical quality of the project when DOE, EPA, and Ohio EPA all accepted our 90 percent design submittal as the final design."

The Fernald site closure was originally slated to be complete in 2019, and through government initiatives and funding, a 2009 completion date was mandated by DOE. Ultimately, and in significant part due to the expedited availability of the OSDF, Fluor Fernald and its contractors (including Geosyntec) were able to achieve final closure in October 2006 for nearly $8 billion less and 13 years earlier than estimated in a 1992 government report, allowing this Cold War legacy site to return to productive re-use as a federal wildlife and nature park. Mr. Uday Kumthekar, P.E., Fluor Fernald Closure Engineering Manager stated "the accelerated schedule and cost savings were possible due largely to regulatory approval of an on-site disposal facility (OSDF)."