EPA proposes removal of radioactive storage tanks
By JOHN F. BONFATTI
Buffalo News Staff Reporter
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is proposing that
underground tanks containing highly radioactive residue at the West
Valley Demonstration Project be exhumed within the next 10 years.
EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg made the suggestion at a
West Valley meeting Thursday with the various state and federal
agencies involved with the project.
The proposal was made, according to EPA press officer Elias Rodriguez,
"with the aim of moving all parties forward" in what has become a
contentious debate between the two partners in the project, the federal
Department of Energy and the New York State Energy Research and
The DOE has resisted calls by NYSERDA and environmental groups like the
Coalition on West Valley Nuclear Wastes to remove the tanks, instead
advocating that they be entombed in place.
"Any movement on the part of the federal government to properly clean
up the remaning waste at the site is positive," said Judy Einach, the
coalition's campaign director. "Any efforts to cooperate are also a
The nearly empty tanks once contained 600,000 gallons of highly
radioactive nuclear waste. The project's groundbreaking accomplishment
over the past 20 years has been the retrieval of almost all of that
liquid and its transformation into a more stable glass-based solid. The
tank issue is part of a larger disagreement between the DOE and NYSERDA
over the criteria for closing the site, and who should be responsible
for its long-term stewardship.
Negotiations over those issues broke down at the end of the Clinton
administration and have stalled since then.
In April, NYSERDA announced that it planned to sue the federal
government over the issue unless an agreement was forthcoming. And last
year, New York's congressional representatives sponsored legislation
that would have the DOE assume long-term care of the site.
NYSERDA President Peter R. Smith called the EPA's suggestion "a
positive development," adding, "I hope the DOE views this as a positive
DOE spokeswoman Megan Barnett said the department is "studying all
options to ensure the safe decommissioning of the tanks at West
Valley." She added that all of the parties had agreed "to take part in
a series of meetings to discuss and resolve key issues related to
selecting a site decommissioning approach."
Under the EPA's proposal, a joint Pilot Demonstration Tank Removal
Project, comprising federal agencies like the EPA, DOE and the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission, would develop a plan for removing the tanks and
complete that task within 10 years.
That action would provide "clean closure on the (site's) north plateau,
and the environmental impact study would reflect this as part of the
preferred alternative" for closing the site.
In an unrelated matter, three groups have submitted bids to the DOE for
performing the next stage of cleanup at the site from 2007 to 2010,
according to the industry publication Weapons Complex Monitor.
One of the groups is led by Washington Group International, whose
subsidiary has been the only contractor the project has known since it
began in 1981.
Another group involves Barbara Mazurowski, the DOE's former director at
West Valley. The third bid came from a group led by Colorado-based CH2M
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