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Despite disaster, TVA still plans wet storage of gypsum

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

dlawrence@roanecounty.com

Despite recent critical revelations about its wet ash storage, TVA is still planning to use a wet system to store gypsum at the Kingston Fossil Plant.     

“The plans are to put the gypsum in the gypsum pond, and it is currently a wet storage,” TVA Environmental Executive Anda Ray said.

Concerns have been raised about the gypsum pond, which will hold waste from a new scrubber set to begin operation, in part, later this year. It is expected to reach full production next year.

The volume of byproduct it produces could exceed that of the fly ash.

“It’s my understanding that’s more than the coal ash,” said Charlie Hensley, a member of Roane County’s long-term recovery committee.

Even before the Dec. 22. 2008, disaster at the TVA plant, Kingston officials registered concern about the gypsum-storage facility under contruction across the Clinch River from one of the city’s waterfront communities.

Kingston officials increasingly vocalized those complaints after the spill.

Earlier this year there was a release at a gypsum pond at a TVA plant in Alabama. Material flowed into nearby waterways as a result.   

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, gypsum has many beneficial uses.

It can be used as a nutrient source for crops and to manufacture cement and wallboard products for residential and commercial buildings. However, even before the economy crashed, the gypsum market was flooded, officials said.

TVA will continue to look for opportunities.

“We will try to sell as much of that gypsum as we can for beneficial use,” Ray said.

A recent report from the TVA Office of the Inspector General determined that TVA ignored warning signs that could have prevented last year’s fly ash disaster at the Kingston Fossil Plant.

A dike failure caused 5.4 million cubic yards of ash to spill from an ash pond.

The surrounding area was engulfed with the toxic material.

The inspector general determined that ash storage inspectors at TVA lacked training. In fact, the dike was visually inspected a day before the disaster.

No problems were noted, according to the Office of the Inspector General report.

Fly ash is a byproduct of the coal burning that goes on at the fossil plant. Ray said it will be handled differently in the future.  

“Kingston will no longer be wet fly ash, and neither will any of our wet fly ash plants,” Ray said. “We will commit all of them to be dry.”

As with fly ash, gypsum can cause respiratory problems if it gets dry, so in that respect, keeping it wet makes sense.

However, among the mistakes cited by the inspector general’s report was that TVA built the containment pond on unstable soils of the Swan Pond peninsula.