February 9, 2017
GORE, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation and state of Oklahoma jointly filed and were granted a restraining order today against Sequoyah Fuels Corporation near Gore to stop the company from disposing radioactive waste near the Arkansas and Illinois rivers. The request was granted by Sequoyah County District Judge Jeff Payton.
“The Cherokee Nation is a staunch defender and protector of our natural resources,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “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.”
Sequoyah Fuels Corporation was opened by Kerr-McGee in 1970 to convert yellowcake uranium into uranium hexafluoride, a compound that produces fuel for nuclear reactors. The company switched hands several times over the years before closing in 1993 after several releases of hazardous chemicals. In January 1986, one worker was killed and dozens more were injured after a cylinder of uranium hexafluoride ruptured. It has since been in the decommissioning process, under the authority of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
During the decommissioning process, Sequoyah Fuels collected approximately 11,000 tons of uranium-contaminated sludge in several basins, lagoons and ditches at the site. In November of 2004, the state of Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation and Sequoyah Fuels entered into a settlement agreement wherein Sequoyah Fuels agreed to spend up to $3.5 million to responsibly dispose of the waste off-site.
Last week, Sequoyah Fuels announced it had been unable to locate an off-site location for the radioactive waste and, instead, intended to place the waste in an on-site storage cell. The Cherokee Nation and state of Oklahoma wanted an expert to review the off-site disposal options, but the company stated its intention to begin immediately placing the waste in an on-site cell.
“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,” said Sara Hill, Cherokee Nation’s secretary of natural resources. “The safety of the environment, our citizens and all people in and around Gore is our highest priority in this matter.”