Ariel view of the Hematite Radioactive Site

The Hematite former Fuel Cycle Facility is located in Jefferson County, near the unincorporated village of Hematite. Westinghouse Electric Company LLC owns the site. The facility consists of approximately 228 acres, of which eight of those acres were used for nuclear reactor uranium fuel production and manufacturing. A variety of non-nuclear chemical products were also stored on-site and used in various stages of the fuel manufacturing process. Sampling results from on-site groundwater monitoring wells and nearby residential drinking water wells contained chemical contamination in the form of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with site operations

Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Role

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversaw removal of radioactive contamination stemming from nuclear activities at the site. The department's Federal Facilities Section provides state oversight for environmental investigation, removal and future potential action on the non-nuclear chemical contamination associated with this site. Department staff coordinate as needed with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and other state programs.


Site Description

Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC currently owns the Hematite Former Fuel Cycle Facility, located at 3300 State Road P, in Jefferson County. From 1956 to 2001, the main activity at the facility was the production of uranium fuel for nuclear reactors. Initial operations focused on fuel for U.S. Department of Defense reactors and later changed to fuel for commercial reactors. The facility consists of about 228 acres, with about eight fenced acres of the property used for fuel manufacturing. A variety of non-nuclear chemical products were also stored on-site and used in various steps of the fuel manufacturing process. 

Nuclear activities at the site were initially conducted under a license issued by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and later by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In 2001, Westinghouse stopped fuel production at the facility and requested an amendment from the NRC to its nuclear materials license, changing the scope of licensed activities to those focused on decommissioning. The NRC issued the requested license amendment in 2002.

Samples obtained from on-site groundwater monitoring wells and several residential water supply wells near the site identified non-nuclear chemical contamination in the form of VOCs associated with site operations. A remedial investigation was completed in 2007, to determine the nature and extent of contamination at the site and further defined the site as a source of groundwater VOC contamination. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic and VOCs, including perchloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE) and their breakdown byproducts, were identified as the main chemical contaminants of concern in soils. The investigation identified VOC impacts to several water bearing layers of soil and bedrock. Short-term response to the groundwater contamination included extending a public water supply main and connections to impacted residential areas. A plan was also implemented to provide periodic information to the department regarding amounts and extent of groundwater contamination.

The distribution of PCE and TCE in the groundwater and soil appear to have originated from multiple sources associated with the facility. VOC source areas in silty clay layers impacted the underlying sand, gravel and bedrock layers and traveled off-site. Groundwater contamination in soil and shallow bedrock has traveled in a southeasterly direction beneath Joachim Creek. Groundwater contamination in deeper bedrock has traveled towards the northeast. Isolated contamination associated with a few private water supply wells was also found in an even deeper underlying layer of bedrock. The “open hole” manner in which these private wells were constructed likely lead to the spread of contamination between the shallow and deeper bedrock layers.

In addition to chemical contamination, the 2007 remedial investigation identified uranium and technetium in site buildings and soils at levels that could pose unacceptable risk from long-term individual exposure. 

Radioactive contamination, regulated by the NRC, was removed under the provisions of a decommissioning plan implemented by Westinghouse. Oversight of the environmental investigation and remediation of VOC contamination originating from non-nuclear products falls under the department’s oversight. Remediation is cleanup or other method used to remove or contain a toxic spill or hazardous material. As stated in the 2009 Record of Decision for Operable Unit 1 (OU-1), the selected remedy at the site required removal, treatment and off-site disposal of buried waste, impacted soils and sediments as one operable unit. From 2012 to 2015, the selected remedy was conducted, which included removing radiologically and chemically impacted soils. In 2015, Westinghouse decided to postpone action on remaining VOC contaminated soils in order to speed up work needed to end the site NRC license. Once decommissioning was completed, NRC reviewed the data and determined the site was acceptable for unrestricted use, terminating the license in 2018. The remaining VOC soil contamination will be remediated under OU-1 while impacted groundwater is addressed as a separate operable unit, named OU-2.

Environmental Issues

Although a large amount of VOC impacted soil found mixed in with the radiological contamination has been removed, residual VOC contamination remains in the soil on-site. Some VOC contaminated soils still provide a source for continuing groundwater contamination. Groundwater contamination exists across a large part of the site and in limited areas off-property, where sample results indicate that contaminant levels and extent of contamination are decreasing. If the remaining soil contamination is not addressed, normal fluctuations in groundwater elevation will continue to spread the remaining contamination between soil and groundwater, possibly extending the amount of time needed for natural reduction of contamination.

VOC contamination remaining in the soil and groundwater around and beneath buildings on-site could enter the buildings as a vapor or gas. This exposure, known as vapor intrusion, could pose a health risk for long-term occupants of remaining site buildings. Any future buildings built over contaminated areas of the site could also pose risk to building occupants if the buildings are not built or managed to prevent vapor intrusion. Groundwater contamination has traveled off-site and would pose an unacceptable risk if water supply wells were installed in the contaminated layers of soil or bedrock.

What's Been Done

From 2012 to 2016, over 115,000 cubic yards of radioactive and chemically contaminated soil and debris were removed and transported to out-of-state facilities by truck or rail. Groundwater samples are collected on a regular basis to monitor contaminant levels and movement. Results indicate that groundwater contaminate levels are decreasing in the residential area and the extent appears to be receding in the direction of site source areas.

Natural Resources/ Wildlife Management

Applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements (ARARs) identified in the record of decision included regulations that would preserve and protect aspects of the environment (floodplains and wetlands; fish and wildlife; and migratory birds). During removal action, the ARARs were addressed through consultations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation. Compliance with the Missouri Clean Water Law was addressed through National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) monitoring.

Community Involvement

Community involvement has been encouraged through public meetings held during previous project milestones, from investigation through completion of the radiological remediation. It is anticipated that community involvement will continue to be a part of the path forward to address the remaining chemical contamination in the soil and groundwater.

What's Left

A large amount of chemical contamination was removed during remediation of radiological contamination. During a public meeting in June 2016, Westinghouse reported that an estimated 20,000 cubic yards of chemically contaminated soil remains. Groundwater contamination remains across a significant portion of the site and in limited off-site areas where sample results indicate that contaminant levels and extent are decreasing. In order to prevent any risk of exposure from vapor intrusion and groundwater usage, residual chemical soil and groundwater contamination must be cleaned up or land use restrictions developed and put into effect.

Looking to the Future

Some parts of the 228-acre facility, particularly those that are not above contaminated soil or groundwater risk-based levels, could be used for any purpose, if there were suitable restrictions on the installation of groundwater supply wells. In its current condition, contaminated property cannot safely be redeveloped without land use restrictions and remediation of soil and groundwater contamination. Chemical contamination remaining on-site under and around buildings, in the soil and groundwater poses a potential risk from vapor intrusion. Additional investigation and cleanup, together with appropriate design criteria, could lessen or eliminate this concern. Uncontaminated areas of the facility and off-site properties in the direction of previous contaminant movement must also have restrictions placed on groundwater usage due to potential impacts affecting area aquifers.

Additional investigation and treatability studies are underway to help identify the most efficient approach to future actions to bring the site back to its intended use. Other items to address include developing land use controls to protect any future occupants of the site, and some adjacent properties, from exposure risks associated with contaminated soil and groundwater remaining at the site. Land use controls limit land use and can guide human behavior at a site; they are another tool that can be utilized to assist in protecting human health and the environment from future impacts of site contaminants.

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