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Last load of ash excavated from TVA Kingston spill site

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By Damon Lawrence

Friday marked another milestone in the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant ash spill cleanup.

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“As of today, we have removed the last load of ash from the lake that we intend to,” said Craig Zeller, project manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are now done excavating ash.”

Zeller and Kathryn Nash, general manager of the cleanup project for TVA, said they are now looking forward to future milestones, such as completion of the perimeter wall around the failed dredge cell later this year and closing the cell by November 2014.  

“Really, the last year of our work here will be getting the 240-acre cell covered with a plastic liner,” Zeller said. “Once the liner is down and the seams are welded, there’s 2-foot of clay that goes on top of that, 4 inches of top soil and a vegetative cover.”

Nash said around 12 of the 240 acres has already been covered with the plastic liner.    

“That’s significant, because you can really visually see that we’re starting to close the site,” she said.

Zeller said the perimeter wall going around the cell is designed to withstand a 7.6 magnitude earthquake on the New Madrid fault line.

“It’s pretty safe to say this thing has been over designed,” he said. “When constructed, it will be the longest slurry wall ever constructed in the United States.”

The EPA said the spill that occurred at the Kingston Fossil Plant is regarded as one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in history.

The north dike of the dredge cell failed on Dec. 22, 2008, releasing more than 5 million cubic yards of ash into the environment. The EPA was brought in after the disaster to oversee the cleanup project.

“Most reasonable people can agree 5.5 million cubic yards of coal ash in a lake environment is not a good thing,” Zeller said. “That’s why we needed to address it and get it cleaned up.”

TVA said workers have removed more than 3 million cubic yards of ash from the middle embayment and areas north of the cell. The recovered ash was put back in the cell.

“We deliberately left about 510,000 cubic yards of ash in the lower Emory (River) and the upper Clinch (River),” Zeller said.

“The material that we left there was co-mingled with some cesium 137 that came from DOE Oak Ridge operations further upstream in the Clinch.”

Zeller said that area covers about 200 acres.  

“We initiated a two-year $40 million study to evaluate what the potential ecological impacts would be of leaving that material in,” Zeller said. “It turns out the risks were very low.”

Nash said the budget for the cleanup project is $1.178 billion. She said about $970 million has been spent so far.