MOREHEAD — State and federal officials were peppered with questions Tuesday about plans to put a final vegetative cap on Maxey Flats, a nuclear-waste site in Fleming County.
Lucien Royse, a Fleming County property owner and a Scott County resident, asked officials how they know the cap will prevent water from getting into the radioactive waste or from migrating off-site.
"We're going to monitor it. We're going to continue to do reviews of it every five years to make sure it's working," said Pamela J. Langston Scully with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency office in Atlanta.
Royse asked whether tests have been performed to ensure the cap will work. Mark Day, an engineer with the AECOM firm that designed the cap, said he has designed 10 caps like this since 1984.
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"You're asking for absolutes," Day said. "There are no absolutes in either the practice of engineering or in the country for anything. I cannot guarantee anything."
There were 47 people at the meeting at the Kentucky National Guard Readiness Center in Rowan County.
Beginning early in April and continuing into October 2016, a contractor will put a final cap or layer over the 52-acre restricted area where low-level nuclear waste was disposed of between 1963 and 1977. Once the cap is in place, surface and groundwater monitoring will continue in perpetuity.
Royse read from a state report that revealed conflicts between officials on what the role of the Radiation Health Branch of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services should be in monitoring Maxey Flats. There was also disagreement on whether plans for the cap would be "protective of human health or the environment in the long term."
But Matt McKinley of the Radiation Health Branch said, "Putting this vegetative cap on is in everyone's best interests."
The final cap will consist of geosynthetic materials covered with topsoil that will be seeded with drought-resistant grass. The state owns more than 1,000 acres; that buffering acreage and the depth at which the waste is buried protects neighbors from radiation. Soil from that buffer land will be used for the final cap, so heavy equipment for excavation and dump trucks for dirt-hauling will be kept on the property and off the two-lane public roads.
Under a tentative schedule, work will begin in April. The timetable calls for the cap to be substantially completed in October 2016.
The Walker Company, a Mount Sterling firm with experience in landfill closures, will be the contractor.
Maxey Flats, about 10 miles northwest of Morehead, was once one of six sites in the nation for the disposal of low-level nuclear waste. Kentucky received permission from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1962 to create the site. At the time, state officials apparently thought Maxey Flats could help bring a then-growing nuclear industry to Kentucky. But that didn't materialize, and Maxey Flats became one of the state's biggest and costliest environmental headaches.
The cost, including design, purchase of additional buffer land, construction and continued monitoring, is $35 million. Funding included $18 million from the state's Capital and Emergency trust accounts, and $17 million in bonds approved by the Kentucky legislature in 2012.