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Army studies Delta landfill for nonradioactive material disposal

A screenshot of an Army Corps of Engineers video that outlines the history of the SM-1A nuclear power plant and the Army's plan to decommission and dismantle it.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The SM-1A's vapor containment structure towers above the facility in this screenshot of an Army Corps of Engineers video that outlines the history of the nuclear power plant and the Army's plan to decommission and dismantle it.

Corps of Engineers considers alternative to shipping material from demolition of Ft. Greely nuclear powerplant

The Army Corps of Engineers is looking at the feasibility of burying non-radioactive materials removed from Fort Greely’s old nuclear power plant at the Delta Junction landfill. The review is part of the final phase of preparation for dismantling the plant that was shut down 50 years ago.

The most radioactive reactor components and fuel were removed from Fort Greely’s nuclear power plant after it was shut down in 1972. But other less-radioactive components were entombed on-site. Now those and other nonradioactive materials will be removed as part of the final phase of a decommissioning and dismantling project that began last month, when officials with the Corps of Engineers and its Louisiana-based project contractor met with Fort Greely’s garrison staff to map out preparations for the five-year project they hope to begin next summer.

“Their primary goal right now is to get all of the work plans prepared so that we can mobilize to the site, hopefully by June of 2024,” says Brenda Barber, the project manager.

Barber says officials at the meeting held detailed talks on planning, site preparation and risk mitigation. She says hands-on work will begin in January, when members of the Corps’ project team and the contractor -- Aptim-Amentum Alaska Decommissioning -- will inspect the power plant’s vapor-containment structure, where the old components were buried.

“That’s where the reactor components are encased in a mixture of soil, grout and concrete,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

Barber says those remaining parts and material will now be removed, after more safety and environmental testing is conducted.

“We’re going to take some additional samples to make sure that we have properly characterized all those encasement materials for the upcoming project,” she added.

Last month’s visit by the project team included discussions with Delta Junction city officials about the economic benefits the project will provide, including jobs and subcontracting opportunities. Barber says team members talked with Mayor J.W. Musgrove and city Administrator Ken Greenleaf about the possibility of disposing of non-radioactive materials in the city’s landfill -- a complicated process that would require federal and state approval and oversight.

“So, we committed to exploring that potential with the city,” Barber said, “and during our next visit, what we committed to do was sit down and kind of outline what the steps would be, so that we could start that process now.”

Greenleaf says city officials are considering the proposal.

“There was no agreement made,” he said Tuesday. “It was really just a conversation about the City of Delta, with regard specifically to our landfill.”

Greenleaf says he told the project team members that there may be support for the proposal if city if detailed studies and experts and regulators can ensure that only safe, nonradioactive materials would be buried in the landfill.

“And our comment back to them is whatever refuse they had that was certified and clean and by permit met the operation requirements of our landfill – that we wouldn’t be opposed to taking that,” he said.

Corps of Engineers officials say radioactive material and components removed from the power plant, known as the SM-1A, will be transported out of Alaska and taken to nuclear storage and disposal facilities in the Lower 48.

“We’re very adamant about making sure that nothing radioactive makes its way to our landfill.,” Greenleaf said. “And they were equally adamant about that.”

Greenleaf says if both the city and Corps of Engineers can assure the safety of the proposal, it would reduce the cost of disposing of the material, and benefit both the federal government and the city.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.