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Feds: Columbia plant would have little environmental impact

December 10, 2016 GMT

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A proposed medical radioactive isotope plant in Columbia would have little environmental impact, although it does pose a small threat of increased runoff into nearby water systems, according to a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission report.

The plant, which would be operated by Northwest Medical Isotopes, would partner with the University of Missouri Research Reactor to produce Molybdenum-99, an element used in nuclear medicine to diagnose life-threatening diseases, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/2htIwJn). Mo-99, which is used to perform about 50,000 procedures daily in the U.S., has been imported for the past two decades because of the lack of a domestic source. There also is a global shortage of Mo-99.

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David Drucker, a senior project manager for the regulatory commission, reviewed the environmental impact statement at a recent public hearing. Public comments can be made online until Dec. 29. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will consider the public’s response while drafting its final environmental impact statement, which is expected in May.

Drucker said the commission plans to recommend that a construction permit be issued for the plant, which would be on 7.4 acres northeast of U.S. 63.

Tom Lata, vice chairman of the Osage Group of the Missouri Sierra Club, said his organization is concerned the plant site’s clay soil will cause rapid runoff into the environmentally sensitive Gans Creek watershed and affect other important ecosystems near Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, which includes the Devil’s Icebox cave system. He also believes the project could potentially disturb populations of the Indiana bat and gray bat, which are endangered species.

The environmental impact statement acknowledges the plant could create a small threat to the watershed by converting open fields to impermeable surfaces such as rooftops and paved roads, which increases runoff. The statement says the runoff “could affect offsite aquatic resources by damaging downstream aquatic habitat and functions. For example, runoff can increase turbidity or introduce various chemicals or other pollutants that decrease water quality.”

But the commission’s report said Gans Creek and other bodies of water are far enough from the plant site to make significant impacts unlikely. And Northwest Medical Isotopes will be required to control runoff and pollutants.

At the public hearing, Columbia Mayor Brian Treece supported the proposed plant. He said Columbia is an ideal location for a plant that is important because of the global need for Mo-99. He estimated the plant would provide $76 million in tax revenue.

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Dave Griggs, of Regional Economic Development Inc., said the construction would require up to 180 workers, with the plant offering 98 full-time jobs.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will submit a draft safety evaluation in the summer. The project cannot be approved until the final safety evaluation report is completed next fall.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com