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EPA Endorses "Way Ahead" Plan for West Valley Demonstration Project; Agency on hand to recognize shipment of nearly 20,000 low-level radioactive waste drums

Release Date: 09/18/2007
Contact Information: Elias Rodriguez (212) 637-3664, rodriguez.elias@epa.gov or John Chamberlain (716) 942-4610, john.chamberlain@wvnsco.com

(Ashford, N.Y.) The people of West Valley, New York and Cattaraugus County celebrated an important milestone today at the West Valley Demonstration Project as they marked the safe shipment, in just over one year, of nearly 20,000 drums filled with low-level radioactive waste for off-site disposal. Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator joined James Rispoli, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environmental Management as EPA announced its support for “The Way Ahead,” a plan developed by all of the cooperating federal and state agencies involved in moving the West valley project forward in carrying out a comprehensive, practical and environmentally responsible action plan for cleaning up the former nuclear fuel reprocessing site.

“The Way Ahead plan outlines scientifically sound steps we can take now, as we continue to develop solutions for the long-term environmental challenges at the West Valley Demonstration Project,” said Regional Administrator Steinberg. ”EPA is pleased to collaborate with our partners in developing a plan that will lead to significant progress toward final decommissioning of West Valley.”

In September 2006, DOE invited involved federal and state regulatory agencies to form a team, called the Core Team, to identify alternatives and recommendations for the complex and environmentally sensitive issues at the West Valley site. EPA together with the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and the New York State Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation are working as part of the Core Team. Alternatives developed for decommissioning and long-term stewardship of the West Valley site will be evaluated and presented in a draft Environmental Impact Statement, which will be released to the public for comment. Decommissioning this site is challenging because of the residue remaining in high-level radioactive waste tanks, contaminated buildings and lands from past reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, a groundwater plume, and two radioactive waste burial areas as well as the lack of an available, permanent national repository for high-level radioactive waste.

The offsite shipment of the 20,000 drums is an important step forward. The drum cell project is one in a series of recent tasks that has significantly reduced the amount of low-level waste stored at the facility and the number of facilities needed for radioactive waste storage. Other recent accomplishments include the demolition of 19 structures and continued decontamination of the former reprocessing facility.

Highlights of the Core Team’s Way Ahead plan:

The Way Ahead – Part 1
Stopping water from entering the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed disposal area
Drying liquids remaining in the high level waste tanks
Containing the North Plateau groundwater plume
Relocating the high level waste canisters to allow the main process plant building removal

The Way Ahead – Part 2
Removing the main process plant building, source area for the North Plateau groundwater plume, and remaining nearby facilities
Deferring final decisions on disposition of the state-licensed disposal area, NRC-licensed disposal area and the high level waste tanks

The U.S. Department of Energy’s West Valley Demonstration Project is composed of a 167-acre, DOE operated portion of a 3,300-acre site owned by New York State through the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority under the name Western New York Nuclear Services Site or West Valley site. West Valley was a commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing facility built and briefly operated during the 1960s. It was permanently closed in the 1970s, leaving tanks containing 750,000 gallons of liquid, high-level radioactive wastes; a storage pool containing several hundred spent nuclear fuel assemblies and a significantly contaminated reprocessing building.

In 1980, Congress passed a law, called the West Valley Demonstration Project Act, authorizing DOE to use this site to demonstrate a method for solidifying high-level liquid waste, and requiring it to decontaminate and decommission the facilities used in that effort. By 2002, DOE completed this portion of work under the law and is currently storing 275 canisters of solidified high level waste in the former reprocessing building on the West Valley site. Congress also required DOE to decontaminate and decommission facilities it used in the demonstration project. EPA will continue to provide its expertise and technical guidance in the radiological cleanup of the West Valley site.

For more information, please visit DOE's West Valley Demonstration Project Web site, at http://www.wv.doe.gov/.

To learn more about how EPA is working for the people of New York, visit: http://www.epa.gov/region2.

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