CN, state and Gore officials celebrate nuclear waste site cleanup
GORE – On Nov. 30, Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma and Gore city officials announced that the remaining nuclear waste at the former Sequoyah Fuels Corp. site east of Gore has been removed.
The last semitrailers left the site in late November, hauling away the last of 511 loads of nuclear waste that was hazardous for Sequoyah County and its citizens for decades.
Mike Broderick, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality Radiation Program manager said at the ceremony that he first dealt with the SFC site in 1994.
“This is a proud day because when I came here in 1994, the future looked much darker. At that time there was limited funding. It was going to be very inadequate for the cleanup, and there was no possibility that we could see to have a long-term custodian to take care of the site. That meant the site would be abandoned and would be a peril to the people and to the rivers here,” he said. “What a difference there is between that depressing future to what we have today. The highest risk material has been removed from the site, and the site will end up in the care of the federal government, so it will not be a burden to Oklahoma taxpayers.”
Broderick said some uranium that was at the site has a half-life of 4.5 billion years.
The 10,000 tons of radioactive waste was transported to a disposal site in Utah where the uranium will be recycled and reused. It leaves the area near the Arkansas and Illinois rivers free of nuclear waste for the first time in nearly 50 years.
The uranium processing plant was opened by Kerr-McGee in 1970. It converted yellowcake uranium into fuel for nuclear reactors. The plant changed ownership more than once and was eventually sold to General Atomics under the name Sequoyah Fuels Corp.
A plant accident killed one worker and injured dozens of others in 1986. Another accident in 1992 injured 21 workers. Following that accident, and after years of violating numerous environmental rules and nuclear safety standards, the plant closed in 1993.
However, tons of radioactive waste remained at the facility, so in 2004 the CN and state entered into an agreement that required the highest-risk waste to be removed from the site. SFC owners announced in 2016 their intention to bury the waste onsite, but a judge forced the company to comply with the original agreement.
“It is a historic day for the Cherokee Nation and the state of Oklahoma. Our lands are safe again, now that we have removed a risk that would have threatened our communities forever,” Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “This would not have been possible if the tribe and state had not worked tirelessly together in court to ensure removal of this material.”
The CN and Oklahoma attorney general offices worked for 18 months to ensure the off-site disposal of the 10,000 tons of radioactive material.
“We would certainly not be here today if it weren’t for the commitment of all parties that have been involved throughout this years-long process, and to see it through to today is a testament to all of us working together for the betterment of the state of Oklahoma. It also shows the strength behind the partnership between the state of Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation that goes back many years,” said Oklahoma Deputy Attorney General Dara Derryberry at the ceremony.
The former SFC plant sits in western Sequoyah County, which is Dist. 5 Tribal Councilor E.O. Smith’s district. He said he worked at the plant as a young man and credits the plant for attracting “great citizens” to Gore.
“Sequoyah Fuels at one time was good. It was a great bunch of people to work around, but the end of it wasn’t good,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of interest in this. That’s why we had a big crowd.”
Gore Town Administrator Horace Lindley, who’s been with the town for 11 years, said when he started working for Gore one of his first tasks was to learn the history of SFC and the plant site.
“I’m just very pleased today that we have gotten rid of the (hazardous) material. It’s a new day, a new beginning,” he said. “What the board wanted me to express was our deep thanks to the Cherokee Nation and to the state of Oklahoma. Without them this would have never have happened.”