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STATEMENTS OF A PANEL COMPRISING HON. DALE D. MYERS, UNDER SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY, AND JAMES L. LIVERMAN, ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR ENVIRONMENT, ACCOMPANIED BY BARBARA FAULKNER, ATTORNEY ADVISER, AND RICHARD H. KENNEDY, DIVISION OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL TECHNOLOGY; HON. JOSEPH M. HENDRIE, CHAIRMAN, NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION, AND COMMISSIONER VICTOR GILINSKY, ACCOMPANIED BY COMMISSIONER RICHARD T. KENNEDY, AND SHELDON MEYERS, DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF FUEL CYCLE AND MATERIAL SAFETY; DAVID G. HAWKINS, ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR FOR AIR AND WASTE MANAGEMENT, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, ACCOMPANIED BY WILLIAM ROWE, DEPUTY ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR FOR RADIATION PROGRAMS; AND MONTE CANFIELD, JR., DIRECTOR, ENERGY AND MINERALS DIVISION, GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
Mr. D. MYERS. Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to be here today to discuss the administration's bill, authorizing the Department of Energy to clean up residual uranium milltailings piles which resulted from past uranium development.
With me is Dr. James L. Liverman, Acting Assistant Secretary for Environment, who is responsible for such milltailings cleanup efforts in the Department.
I would also suggest that, because of the panel activity today, we submit for the record Dr. Liverman's oral statement, which includes the answers to questions that you requested of us.
Mr. DINGELL. We will insert the statements and allow everyone to summarize as they wish. That would be quite acceptable.
Mr. D. MYERS. The administration believes that the cleanup or stabilization of residual uranium mill tailings piles identified by the legislation to be important for two basic reasons: The first, and probably most important one, is to avoid potential health hazards to populations in these areas. The second reason is to enable these sites, most of which are in potentially favorable locations, to be put to alternative uses.
We believe that the Government should take responsibility for the cleanup of these sites because those covered by this legislation resulted from the operations of private companies which processed uranium ore under procurement contracts for the Manhattan engineer district and DOE's predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, from the mid 1940's to 1970. Unfortunately, the requirement for stabilization of mill tailings piles was not included in these contracts, largely because these tailings were not believed to be a problem.
It was not until 1966, when the Colorado Department of Health found that tailings sand from a mill in Grand Junction was being used in the construction of buildings, that the magnitude of this problem was recognized. Radiation levels in these structures were found to be in excess of the guidelines of the Surgeon General and, in 1973, a joint State/Federal program was implemented to rectify the problem.
It was recognized then that this situation could be a recurring one if measures were not taken to clean up and stabilize these piles. Hence, the surveys of 22 former uranium ore processing sites were initiated and our findings brought us to recognize the need for immediate remedial action. In the case of Salt Lake City, for example, the site, which once was considered quite remote, is now in the middle of a population center.
The action we propose applies only to inactive sites, and does not apply to operating mills.
The Department and the administration are committed to the goals of insuring the environmental acceptability and safety of all aspects of a technology under its purview, including waste disposal. We believe that this legislation will enable us to carry out that responsibility.
It will enable us to insure public protection from possible adverse effects of low-level radiation from the previously sponsored activities. It will also be beneficial in developing, with other concerned Federal agencies such as EPA and NRC and the States, knowledge of reclamation measures which will better enable us to deal with and prevent similar problems in the future. Finally, it will permit the restoration of large areas of lands for public use.
This concludes my statement, Mr. Chairman. I would now ask Dr. Liverman to address some of the specific aspects of the legislation in support of my general comments.
Mr. DINGELL. Thank you very much, Mr. Myers.
Dr. Liverman, without objection, your statement will appear in the record in full.
STATEMENT OF JAMES L. LIVERMAN Mr. LIVERMAN. Basically, this whole effort began as the result of an introduction of a bill by Senator Moss in 1974. At that time EPA and the AEC testified, suggesting that instead of dealing with Salt Lake City alone, that we deal with all 22 sites that were then in a surplus or abandoned state, largely in the western part of the United States.
Phase I of that study was to make a fast survey, which we did, and reported the results back to the Congress. Subsequently we began phase II, which was a more detailed engineering study and to examine what the alternatives might be for disposal and what those costs might be, in order to come to the Congress with a sensible proposal, at least close to being priced out.
It seemed to be clear the contracts under which the companies operate did not require them to clean up, and I believe we were at that time largely unaware of the potential health and safety risks that reside there, and it is questionable whether any of these companies are really totally liable for the state in which we find ourselves.
Basically the administration's bill authorizes the Department to provide financial assistance. It provides for 75 percent of the cost of these cleanups. It provides for the Secretary to determine, in large measure, exactly who will clean it up, and, to determine jointly with the States, which of the options may be used.
It provides for full Federal reimbursement for those piles on Indian lands; it provides that EPA will promulgate standards, and the criteria for cleanup, within 180 days and that NRC will be looking over our shoulder all of the way as we do this.
DOE would not begin remedial action until 90 days after the standards and criteria have been put on the table. The 1979 budget carries $3 million in it to begin some of the efforts related to getting in a position in fiscal year 1980 principally to begin then the actual cleanup.
Obviously we will move on those sites that are of greatest health concern to begin with. I believe, Mr. Chairman, that completes my summary, but let me remark on one other thing.
The other bills that have been introduced, principally the Marriott bill, the one by Senator Garn and others, provide in most cases for the piles themselves, for 100 percent payment on the part of the Federal Government. For those situations that exist remote from those sites, if tailings have been used for foundations and what have you, as was done in Grand Junction, the Marriott bill provides for the States to pick up 25 percent.
Therein lies the principal difference between the administration's bill and those that have been proposed by others.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. [Testimony resumes on p. 216.] Mr. Liverman's prepared statement and attachments follow:)
OF JAMES L.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss H. R. 12535, the
proposed "Residual Radioactive Materials Act of 1978" and a similar
bill H. R. 12938.
A full scale investigation of the inactive uranium mill tailings site situation began as a result of hearings held in March 1974 on bills introduced by Senator Frank Moss and Congressman Wayne Owens of Utah
for remedial action on the Vitro site in Salt Lake City. At these hearings both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) recommended a study of all inactive
uranium mill tailing sites in the Western States in order to provide the Congress with information concerning the full implications of undertaking the cleanup program. In that hearing, I proposed a two phase study. The initial or rapid survey phase was completed and a report was sent to the Congress in October 1974. It outlined the
situation on each site and pointed out the site problems needing
The second phase, which was a detailed engineering assessment of
22 sites in 8 Western States, was initiated in 1975; the reports have been sent to Congress as they were completed. The final group of
reports was forwarded in January 1978.
On the basis of these studies, the Administration has proposed legisla
tion to authorize a remedial action program to clean up these inactive
uranium mill tailings sites and to reduce, to the extent practicable, possible public exposure to radiation from the waste residues left
behind from the ore processing operations.
This legislation was necessary because it has been difficult to fix
legal responsibility for the tailings problem. The Federal Government
and States do not appear to be legally responsible since they exerted
neither operational control or regulatory jurisdiction over the tailings. The Federal Government was a mere purchaser of product from a number of privately-owned companies.
Insofar as the companies that operated the mills are concerned, we have
a rather mixed bag of circumstances.
Some companies have acted
responsibly and endeavored to establish and maintain a cover of
vegetation on the tailings to stop wind and water erosion. Others have
sold the properties or simply allowed the lease on the land to expire. Some of the corporations no longer exist. There were no requirements in the Government contracts for tailings stabilization and the companies were not aware of the potential health and safety risks resulting from
exposure to the tailings. It therefore is questionable whether any
companies are legally responsible. If the work is to be undertaken
promptly, and we believe the circumstances justify it, then we see
no practicable alternative than to undertake the remedial action as
a matter of compassionate responsibility of the United States to its
citizens to remedy an unforeseen situation where no other remedy
under the law is apparent.