FMRI (Fansteel), Inc.
1.0 Site Identification
|Type of Site:||Complex Decommissioning Site|
|License Status:||Possession Only License|
|Project Manager:||Jim Shepherd|
2.0 Site Status Summary
The FMRI, Inc. plant is located in east-central Oklahoma (Figure 1) and from 1957–1989 produced tantalum and columbium metals from ores and tin slags (a byproduct of ore smelting). Tantalum metal is mainly used in the electrical/electronics industry for production of tantalum capacitors. Columbium oxide is used for heat-resistant alloys. The facility was owned and operated by Fansteel Inc. (Fansteel) for approximately 33 years. FMRI, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Fansteel and was started in 2003 for the purpose of decommissioning the site.
The Fansteel site is on 52 ha [110 ac] located along the Arkansas River (Mile 395). It is about 4 km [2.5 mi] northeast of Muskogee, Oklahoma, and 66 km [41 mi] southeast of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The site is in an area zoned for industrial use. There are 15 structures on the site that are used for processing and administration. Buildings associated with the ore-processing activities include the Chemical “C” building, the Chemical “A” building, and the research and development laboratory building. Other important facilities on the site are the groundwater treatment facility, the ore storage pad, and the chemical equipment room. Nine ponds were built for site operations. Ponds 1 and 4 have been closed, Pond 3 has been remediated, and the remaining ponds contain process waste contaminated with chemical and radioactive materials.
The Fansteel facility was constructed in 1956 and in 1957 began extracting rare metals (tantalum and columbium) from uranium ore, thorium ore, and tin slag feedstock by using an acid digestion process. The extracted metals were made into ingots, bars, powder, and alloys to be used at other Fansteel operations throughout the United States. The digestion process did not specifically extract the uranium and thorium from the ore. The radioactive residues from the operations were disposed in acidic Ponds 2, 3, and 5. Pond 4 was used from 1957 until the sewage was routed to the municipal sewage system in 1979. Subsequently, Pond 3 was constructed over Pond 4 and was used for site operations. Acidic water was stored in Pond 1 from 1957–1979. Pretreatment Ponds 1S and 1N were constructed in 1979 above the original Pond 1 and were used from 1981–1990 to store acidic and ammonia waters, respectively. Powdery fines were later removed from Pond 1S and packaged into drums for sale or recovery as tantalum concentrate. Alkaline process water was treated and passed on to settling Ponds 6, 7, 8, and 9.
Since 1967, the Fansteel facility has operated with license SMB-911 issued by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and its successor, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), because the uranium and thorium concentrations were high enough to cause the ores, slags, and byproducts to be classified as source materials. Plant manufacturing operations terminated in December 1989. From 1989–1996, Fansteel conducted limited site remediation and decommissioning of site areas. During 1990–1992, chemical processing equipment used in the extraction of tantalum and columbium was sold and removed offsite. In 1993, Fansteel conducted a characterization survey to determine existing site contamination. Radioactivity was found throughout the Chemical “C” building, the process ponds, surrounding soils, and groundwater and in isolated areas of other site buildings. Following cleanup activities in 1996, NRC released 14 ha [35 ac] in the northwest portion of the site for unrestricted use. In 1997, the license was amended so ore, calcium fluoride, and wastewater treatment residues containing uranium and thorium in various site impoundments could be reprocessed and reduced in volume. From 1999–2001, a new chemical extraction process was implemented until Fansteel suspended all operations because of process difficulties and a decline in the price of tantalum.
In January 2002, Fansteel filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11. Subsequently, NRC drew on the financial assurance instruments and placed funds in a standby trust. Later in 2002, Fansteel applied for a license renewal, but NRC denied the renewal application because the required decommissioning financial assurance was not provided and the license expired. In July 2003, Fansteel submitted a revised decommissioning plan (DP), a request for exemption from financial assurance requirements, and authorization to transfer the license to a subsidiary (FMRI, Inc.) as part of the bankruptcy reorganization plan. NRC approved these requests in December 2003. The approved DP outlines a four-phase approach that first addresses remediation of the most risk-significant areas. Phase 1 of the DP states that the residues in Ponds 2 and 3 must be removed offsite and sent to the White Mesa disposal facility, which International Uranium Corp. (now Dennison Mines) operates near Blanding, Utah. Most of the disposed residue from Pond 3 was dried, bagged, and shipped between 2005 and 2008. FMRI’s current plan is to complete remediation of Ponds 2 and 3 by 2013. Phase 2 will remediate Ponds 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9; Phase 3 will remediate buildings, equipment, and soils; and Phase 4 will remediate the groundwater. Phases 1–3 will be done in sequence; Phase 4 is ongoing and will continue until groundwater meets regulatory standards. The groundwater remediation is estimated to be completed by 2023.
3.0 Major Technical or Regulatory Issues
Fansteel provided a total of about $4.5 million in financial assurance for FMRI to use to remediate the Muskogee site. The original cost estimate that Fansteel provided to decommission the site, by deposition to the Bankruptcy Court, was $57 million for off-site disposal of all wastes greater than 10 pCi/g total activity. The revised cost estimate in the DP is about $32 million for solid waste, based on dose criteria of 10 CFR 20.1402 using an industrial land use scenario with no drinking water pathway. Staff agrees with the industrial land use, but determined that the licensee has not yet submitted sufficient information to support no drinking water pathway. Fansteel estimated approximately $10 million additional for commitments for ground water remediation. Fansteel stated it is not able to provide additional financial assurance because of the bankruptcy proceeding. Instead, it signed unsecured promissory notes for the estimated costs. The total value of the fund as of the December 2010 statement is about $350,000. Therefore work is limited by available funds and relies primarily on the Fansteel deposits of $720k twice annually.
FMRI’s original schedule showed completion of Phase 1 decommissioning by March 31, 2006. According to its January 2011 letter, FMRI's current plan is to complete excavation and shipping of Pond 2 and 3 material in CY 2013.
The Oklahoma DEQ sent a letter to FMRI in July, 2008 stating the FMRI was not in compliance with its OPDES permit conditions, and it must either close Ponds 6 - 7, line them with an approved synthetic material, or conduct addtional ground water monitoring east of the intercepter trench, including in the bedrock, by May, 2010. The schedule for these activities is consistent with Phases 1 and 2 of the site DP, including revisions through 2006. However, because of delays in Pond 2 and 3 remediation, there are resulting delays in addressing Ponds 5 - 9. Staff and ODEQ are working to resolving the implementation with minimum impact on radiological remediation. ODEQ is contemplating additional sampling for chemical contamination on the site as part of the permit.
Fansteel is actively exploring alternatives to accelerate decommissioning of the site, including possibly transferring control of the site to a decommissioning company. The first step to reduce overhead costs was removal of the position of President of FMRI as an entity. Those duties have been reassigned to existing personnel at Fansteel HQ.
There is high public interest from the State of Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation, and the Port of Muskogee.
4.0 Estimated Date For Closure