“We don’t want this. We’re not going to take this sitting down.”
Those are the words of Gore City Administrator Horace Lindley as he voiced the Town of Gore’s concern over Sequoyah Fuels wanting to dispose of radioactive waste at the company’s plant that sits near the juncture of the Illinois and Arkansas rivers.
The Cherokee Nation and the State of Oklahoma jointly filed and were granted a restraining order Thursday against Sequoyah Fuels to stop the company from disposing of the waste on site. The restraining order was granted by Sequoyah County District Judge Jeff Payton.
The Cherokee nation is a staunch defender and protector of our natural resources,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “We will not stand idly by and allow the Arkansas River, one of our most precious resources, and the Cherokee community of Gore to be polluted. The Cherokee Nation will fight for the rights of our people to live safely in their communities, and for the rights of our future generations to inherit an environment free of hazardous pollution.”
In January 1986, one worker was killed and dozens more were injured after a cylinder of uranium hexafluoride ruptured. The plant has been in the decommissioning process under the authority of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
According to court information, Sequoyah Fuels announced last week it had been unable to locate an “off-site” location for the radioactive waste and intended to place the waste in an on-site storage cell.
Tribal officials said during the decommissioning process, Sequoyah Fuels had collected about 11,000 tons of uranium-contaminated sludge in several basins, lagoons and ditches at the Gore site. In November 2004, the Cherokee Nation, the State of Oklahoma and Sequoyah Fuels entered into an agreement wherein Sequoyah Fuels agreed to spend up to $3.5 million to dispose of the waste off-site.
“We will pursue obtaining an expert review of off-site disposal options for the materials and examine the impact to the community and the environment should this waste be disposed of on-site,” Sara Hill, Cherokee Nation’s secretary of natural resources, said. “The safety of the environment, our citizens and all people in and around Gore is our highest priority in this matter.”
Lindley said he plans to write a letter to State Attorney General and contact Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb to voice concerns.
Sequoyah Fuels began operations in 1970, converting yellowcake uranium into uranium hexafluoride.
On Jan. 4, 1986, Sequoyah Fuels experienced a rupture of an overfilled uranium hexafluoride container that contained 29,500 of gaseous uranium hexafluoride. The rupture killed James Harrison, 26. Archive material and reports of the time indicated 37 of 42 onsite workers were hospitalized. Health care providers also examined up to 100 people from the surrounding community for health effects and 21 were hospitalized for a short time.
The plant ceased operations in 1993.
Attempts to contact Sequoyah Fuels for comment were unsuccessful at press time.