The Buffalo News - Western New York - WEST VALLEY

Plan to leave N-wastes draws fire

By KATHY KELLOGG

Cattaraugus Correspondent

2/19/2004

WEST VALLEY - A new deactivation plan that calls for the Energy Department to leave the West Valley Demonstration Project by 2008 is unacceptable to the West Valley Citizen Task Force, which, with the State Energy Research and Development Authority, is pushing for a more extensive cleanup of radioactive wastes.

The Citizen Task Force meets monthly to review technical information used to prepare for decontamination of the former commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing center and shutting down the site.

At a meeting here Wednesday night, Bob Warther, the Energy Department's regional field manager, said the plan calls for placing grout around the heel of two large underground storage tanks containing small amounts of high-level liquid waste but not to exhume them.

He said the grout will not fill the tanks and easily could be removed, leaving open the possibility of exhuming the material or other remedies that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission eventually might choose. For now, however, the tanks won't be removed because of the possible risks to workers.

When task force members protested, Warther said the procedure has been the standard approach when preparing tanks at other radioactive waste sites for storage or exhumation.

The Energy Department, meanwhile, has released a draft of proposed work for the next contract project, which will remove most buildings, ship out low-level radioactive waste and some more dangerous wastes, and store canisters of high-level vitrified waste until the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada or some other long-term storage facility is approved. The main process building will be gutted, and the remote-handled waste facility now nearing completion will remain for the time being.

The four-year plan is expected to cost about $300 million and will not include cleaning up an underground plume of strontium-contaminated ground water. Warther said more extensive cleanup measures would require revising the department's agreement with the State Energy Research and Development Authority.

"The real reason is to save money," said Lee Lambert, a task force member. Warther invited the task force to hold a separate discussion on that issue. Paul Piciulo, project director for the State Energy Research and Development Authority, asked Warther if the Energy Department is ready to return to the negotiating table and talk about the disposal fee and stewardship issues on which the two agencies had failed to reach agreement before talks broke down a year ago.

"We can go back and negotiate, but if you are not going to negotiate then what will we negotiate about?" Piciulo asked.

Warther ended his presentation by stating that he felt he had just wasted two hours, and Joe Patti, a task force member, retorted that he felt he had wasted seven years serving on the task force.

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