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From The Morning Call Inc., Copyright 4/26/05

 

(Reprinted with permission from the Managing Editor)

 

 

CFC Logistics closes cobalt irradiator in Bucks County

It's 'poetic justice' for foes. The market was weak, company says.

By Steve Wartenberg
Of The Morning Call

April 26, 2005

While they may have lost the battle, several legal battles in fact, the opponents of the controversial cobalt 60 irradiator in Milford Township have finally won their anti-nuclear war.

''We have made a decision to shut down the irradiator,'' said Jim Wood, president of CFC Logistics, which has operated the nuclear irradiator at its 250,000-square-foot AM Drive cold storage warehouse since October 2003.

On Monday, Wood said the company ceased irradiating products last week.

''The market for irradiating meat never materialized and the cold storage business has exploded and is a much more profitable business for us to be in,'' he said, adding the elimination of the irradiator would increase cold storage capacity by about 10 percent.

''For those who opposed it, this is poetic justice,'' Milford Supervisor Robert Mansfield said.

Wood declined to say how much CFC Logistics, a division of the Hatfield-based Clemens Family Corp., spent on the irradiator. However, during a September 2003 hearing in Bucks County Court, Wood testified the company had spent about $1.5 million to buy and install the irradiator and purchase the initial batch of cobalt 60 rods.

''I am so thrilled,'' said Kim Haymans-Geisler, a member of Concerned Citizens of Milford, a grass-roots group formed to fight the irradiator. ''We've worked so long and so hard and so many people have cared about this issue for so long.''

Since word began to spread in February 2003 that CFC Logistics sought a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build an irradiator, local residents, and later Milford Township officials, fought the facility, initiating and losing a string of license challenges and lawsuits.

They lost each one, the last on Jan. 11 when Judge Michael Farrar of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued an order officially ending the agency's hearing, which reviewed the license the NRC granted CFC Logistics on Aug. 27, 2003.

''This is wonderful news,'' said Brenda McCardle, a former board member of Concerned Citizens. ''We felt like we couldn't win against big business, but we were kind of hoping the demand [for irradiated products] wouldn't be out there.''

According to Martin Stein, chief executive officer of GrayStar, the New Jersey company that built the Milford irradiator, the facility currently contains more than 900,000 curies of cobalt ''pencils,'' metallic rods that resemble thick car antennas.

The facility is licensed for 1million curies.

The pencils which emit a bluish glow are at the bottom of a 20-foot, water-filled well. A computer-operated hoist system lowered casks filled with food or nonfood products into the well, where they were then irradiated.

During its operations, CFC Logistics irradiated nonfood products such as medical supplies, botanicals and spices.

''They called last week and said they were shutting down and wanted us to know,'' Stein said, adding that an improved irradiator has been developed that sells for $1.6 million.

''That doesn't count the cobalt, which could double the cost,'' he said.

Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman, said CFC Logistics has had informal talks with the NRC, ''but they haven't formally submitted anything'' about decommissioning the irradiator.

Sheehan said the NRC has a lengthy set of requirements, and the first step is the removal of the rods. This will be done by Revis, the British company that sold and delivered the rods to CFC Logistics.

''Then they would have to come to us with a decommissioning plan,'' Sheehan said. ''If we approve it, they would dismantle the irradiator and we would conduct final surveys to make sure there is no residual radioactivity. Then there is an independent survey, then the termination of their license.''

Stein said the well will be filled with concrete.

There were no hazardous incidents at the Milford facility during its 19 months of operation, according to Sheehan, and Stein and Wood said it worked perfectly.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the use of irradiated meat in school lunch programs, claiming it would protect children from food-borne illnesses such as E. coli and salmonella.

However, a large market for irradiated meat has not developed, because of the increased cost and the fears irradiated meat could be harmful. No schools in the Lehigh Valley currently use irradiated meat.

Although Concerned Citizens lost their many legal battles with CFC Logistics, Haymans-Geisler believes the work of her group, and others opposed to irradiators and the consumption of irradiated food, has helped their cause and prevented the growth of the market for irradiated beef.

''We did put a cloud over their business,'' she said.

Throughout the past two years, Wood has maintained CFC Logistics followed NRC regulations, the irradiator was not a threat to local residents, and irradiated products are not harmful. The court victories and safe operation of the irradiator, he often stated, helped prove his point.

''You can always look at things in hindsight,'' he said. ''But at the time we thought we made the best decision we could. If you're not willing to take a risk you shouldn't be in business, and now we're making a good decision to stop and not drag this out for another two years.''


steve.wartenberg@mcall.com

215-529-2607

 

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