DOE moves forward with proposed demolition debris landfill in Tennessee

DOE moves forward with proposed demolition debris landfill in Tennessee

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is currently reviewing the proposal and its revisions, which could take around 120 days.


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is moving forward with plans for a proposed demolition debris landfill in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

On July 12, the DOE released a Draft Record of Decision which goes over some of the aspects of the proposed landfill—called the Environmental Management Disposal Facility (EMDF)—and environmental issues related to it. The document is part of the process to get approval from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

TDEC officials state the agency is currently reporting the document and its revisions, which could take around 120 days.

As reported by The Oak Ridger, the draft record of decision describes the kinds of waste DOE are restricted to put in the landfill, which include transuranic wastes or explosive waste. The rules also lay out restrictions on concentrations of certain radioisotopes.

While processes, including working with environmental regulators, may take a while, a DOE spokesperson said DOE needs "additional onsite disposal capability" by "the late 2020s."

"This schedule will allow us to maintain our cleanup momentum and continue our efforts to protect the environment, enable other DOE missions in science and national security, and make clean land available for future use," the spokesperson stated.

According to DOE officials, the proposed landfill will help handle an influx of waste from future demolition and cleanup efforts. Currently, the waste is heading to another landfill in Oakridge, the Environmental Management Waste Disposal Facility, but the site is 78 percent full.

While the EMDF has been described as essential infrastructure for Oak Ridge, it hasn’t escaped criticism from environment groups like Advocates for Oak Ridge Reservation.

Virginia Dale, president for the group, told The Oak Ridger she was worried about groundwater pollution, high rainfall and, specifically, pollution from mercury residue. TDEC also raised these issues in 2018.

Dale suggested that the DOE should ship the waste further west to a drier place instead of trying to store it in Oak Ridge.

A DOE spokesperson, however, said the landfill will help with cleanup efforts and add to safety, a point DOE has made before. The Draft Record Decision includes these concerns, discussing groundwater, rainwater and the types of waste DOE plans to accept.

DOE stated it will have 15 feet between the waste and any water saturation. Included within these 15 feet will be the facility’s 10-foot geologic buffer and a 5-foot liner system. DOE added that it will need to do an additional study to prove if this system will work on high elevation parts of the chosen site.

The record of decision also describes "construction of groundwater and surface water drainage features, as needed, to ensure long-term protection of human health and the environment," a landfill wastewater treatment system and "a multilayer cover to reduce infiltration and permanently isolate the waste from human and environmental receptors," among other features to try and protect from environmental effects.