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Lawsuit probes EPA decision in allowing Oak Ridge landfill

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Danielle Smith

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(Tennessee News Service) Environmental groups in Tennessee will soon learn more about the approval process behind a radioactive waste landfill which has been processing and storing highly enriched uranium for six decades.

The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued the Environmental Protection Agency to gain access to documents related to the approval of the Y12 Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge.

Jeff Ruch, Pacific director for the group, explained the landfill is being built despite objections from senior government officials. He said they used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the documents and the EPA has agreed to provide 400 documents a month, through September.

"The fact that EPA is not being candid about this indicates that they have something to hide," Ruch contended. "And they've already produced several hundred documents, almost none of which are substantive. We do a lot of FOIA litigation and for us, it's a kind of a safe form of whistleblowing."

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Ruch pointed out one issue is the Clean Water Act protections for the streams running by the landfill and emptying into other bodies of water have been set aside. He added unacceptable levels of radiation in the water will affect the fish and wildlife. Critics of the uranium-enriching process say it poses safety and health risks to Tennesseans.

Tanvi Kardile, coordinator for the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, said her group continues to raise concerns to local communities and lawmakers about what it sees as the environmental hazards and public health risks tied to creating a landfill for toxic waste.

"Oak Ridge has pretty high cancer rates already, because of the Y12 weapons complex," Kardile asserted. "As an organization, we're worried about the increase of cancer rates because of a radioactive waste landfill."