West Valley nuclear ‘footprint’ reduced

By Kathy Kellogg


Updated: 05/22/07 7:54 AM

WEST VALLEY - Contractors Monday whittled away at the footprint of the 41-year-old West Valley nuclear waste site, demolishing one of its oldest buildings, while government agencies responsible for mapping the closure plans looked forward to continuing core team discussions in June to negotiate who will pay for and oversee cleanup of the most contaminated portions of the site.

The president of West Valley Nuclear Fuel Service Corp., retired Adm. Al Konetzni, said Monday's demolition of the Main 1 Warehouse and the planned removal next week of five more maintenance structures makes him feel good because it reduces public risk and advances the "way ahead."

Konetzni said he felt "very good" because both New York senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, as well as Congressman John R. "Randy" Kuhl Jr., R-Hammondsport, "seem to be very much on board with this view of the future."

He added that West Valley Nuclear Service Corp.'s work gained some momentum in recent months after the agencies began meeting as a core team to determine the final cleanup parameters.

Konetzni, whose contract extension runs out June 30 and whose company is in the running for a new three-year cleanup contract from the U.S. Department of Energy, referred to the DOE's goal of bringing many of the less-contaminated portions of the former nuclear fuels reprocessing center into an "interim end state" requiring less maintenance and oversight.

State and federal authorities in the meantime have to find a solution to more complicated issues of how to deal with more highly radioactive items on the site.

Some of the 308 workers still at the project are busy packaging what remains of the 20,000 concrete-filled steel drums that contain hardened slurry created during the vitrification of high-level radioactive waste.

According to Konetzni, about 5,000 of the drums have been shipped by truck or rail and 8,000 more are packaged and waiting for rail shipment.

A final environmental impact statement, begun more than 10 years ago, must be completed and other decisions remain for funding and responsibility for overseeing the state and federal burial grounds, along with 275 canisters of highly radioactive waste that are stored on the site.

Also to be determined is a method for stopping a plume of strontium-90-contaminate d water leaking beneath the Process Building.

Some of those problems were outlined Monday night by the citizen advisory group, the West Valley Citizen Task Force, for Judith Enck, the state Secretary of the Environment who was took part in a phone conference meeting that also saw input from officials at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Enck told task force members that she and Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer want suggestions on how to move the cleanup process forward.

Several task force members expressed the need to press DOE for written decisions to address the strontium-90 plume; develop long-term closure plans and continue cleanup operations; to oppose construction of new nuclear power plants and generation of more radioactive waste; and press the DOE to exhume the burial grounds.

Copyright 2007 The Buffalo News