Joint venture joins push to clean up Lockheed Martin, Molten Metal tackle hazardous waste

Billions to be made

56 million gallons of radioactive matter at a West Coast site

September 30, 1996|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

A Tennessee-based joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Molten Metal Technology is hoping to thrive on the strength of a booming market in federal cleanup programs.

"It's definitely growing," said Randy Davis, director of business development for the joint venture, known as M4 Environmental Management Inc.

"The reason is, for probably the last decade, we've done a lot of analysis and studying of the problem," Davis said. "This administration has told the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to start implementing."

M4's technology involves using molten metals to reduce hazardous waste to its basic elements, and then applying a new process called Quantum-CEP that destroys the hazardous ingredients.

Just last week, M4 announced two developments signaling the potential of the government market.

The 2-year-old Oak Ridge, Tenn.-based limited partnership said it is at the center of a $4 billion project led by Lockheed Martin to clean up nuclear waste at a government storage site in Hanford, Wash.

M4 will help process 56 million gallons of radioactive waste that has been collected in 177 tanks since 1944 at Hanford, one of four sites nationwide where the Department of Energy stores such waste.

In a separate development, M4 also agreed to work with Mitsubishi Corp. in its bid to spearhead the cleanup of chemical weapons left in China during World War II by the Japanese Imperial Army.

"Japan has just begun developing their chemical demilitarization program and is seeking new technologies for this work," said Robert Merriman, M4 chief executive officer and president.

M4 estimates the worldwide market for processing chemical weapons at more than $50 billion.

Davis said one of M4's goals is to demonstrate that it is capable of recycling almost 100 percent of the Department of Defense's hazardous waste.

M4 is not the only company with Maryland ties trying to get the federal government's cleanup business.

Akron, Ohio-based R&R International Inc., which has branch offices in Aberdeen and Baltimore, is on a team that won a $60 million Army contract to destroy chemical weapons at nine locations, including Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Columbia-based GTS Duratek Inc. will join M4 on the Hanford cleanup, providing technical support for converting both high- and low-level waste into glass through a process called vitrification.

Bowman Cox, until recently the editor of Defense Cleanup newsletter, said the federal dollars for military cleanup survived budget cuts largely unscathed because Republicans favor military spending and Democrats favor environmental cleanup.

"The government has been under pressure from all interest groups to show results," he said. "So the focus has shifted from study to remediation."

Despite what Cox said will be steady spending over the next few years on cleanup, companies such as M4 and GTS Duratek with "niche solutions" are in no way assured of winning business.

"There's a huge market for them if the Department of Energy decides to use them at a lot of its sites," Cox said.

But there are several ways to solve the problems, he said, and "it remains to be seen which solutions will be the most popular. Cost is going to play a big role."

Pub Date: 9/30/96

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