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Lessons Learned At Fukushima Could Apply To Former 'Silkwood' Site In Oklahoma

Kerr-McGee’s uranium enrichment facility near Crescent.
Brent Fuchs
The Journal Record
Kerr-McGee’s uranium enrichment facility near Crescent.";

Nearly four decades after it shut down, Kerr-McGee’s former nuclear facility in Crescent (yes, that nuclear facility) could finally have its contaminated site in north-central Oklahoma cleaned using environmental practices pioneered across the Pacific.

Jeff Lux with the Cimarron Environmental Response Trust is working to clean up contaminated water on the 840-acre site where Kerr-McGee enriched uranium until 1976. The $86 million project is expected to take 10 years.

Adam Brooks, the managing editor at The Journal Record, says Lux’s method of using a modular system rather than building one big water treatment plant that would have to stand for 30-50 years makes this project unique. Japanese officials used approach to clean up the Fukushima Daiichi plant after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to a nuclear meltdown.

“[It’s] easy to set up, and easy to ship. The system pulls contaminated water over filters and uses electricity to capture the contaminants,” Brooks said. “One of the advantages is as work proceeds, and there's less water to clean up, they can save by cutting back and using fewer of these modular pods.”

Kerr-McGee started as an energy company in the 1920s, but as it diversified and started producing other chemical products, it left contaminated sites across the country. Brooks says from 2002-2006, Kerr-McGee transferred a lot of these liabilities into a spin-off company called Tronox before Anadarko Petroleum bought Kerr-McGee outright in 2006.

“This has been in courts for awhile, but last year Anadarko agreed to a settlement of more than $5 billion to help settle claims and clean up these sites,” Brook said.

The Journal Record’s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports Tronox’s 2009 bankruptcy led to a trust fund that will pay for the site's overhaul:

As a result of the settlement, the Kerr-McGee subsidiary agreed to create a trust fund to clean up the property standards for both the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. Kurion’s initial testing will likely be completed at the end of the summer, Brockman said. Then Lux will submit a cleanup plan that must be approved by both Nuclear Regulatory Commission and by the DEQ. Once both agencies complete a lengthy public hearing and approval process, the cleanup can begin.

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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