Sen. Clinton pushes DOE commitment on former NFS site in N.Y.

By Thomas Wilson

   A New York senator is calling on the U.S. Department of Energy to affirm its commitment to the cleanup of a nuclear site in New York formerly operated by Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc.
   Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) called on DOE last month to rethink its decision to cut 25 percent of funding to the West Valley Demonstration Project under the department's 2005 budget proposal. In a letter sent in February to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Clinton indicated that she would introduce legislation that would clarify DOE's responsibilities for cleaning up the site.
   "The Department of Energy has a responsibility to the people of West Valley and to the people of New York to ensure that the site is fully decontaminated and properly monitored in the future," Senator Clinton said. "The people of West Valley should not be left with a toxic, nuclear legacy."
   President Bush's federal budget proposal includes $8.6 billion to support the goal of protecting the environment. This amount includes large increases to accelerate environmental cleanup (increase of $426 million) and establish a permanent nuclear waste repository (increase of $303 million).
   However, the Energy Department's 2005 budget cuts 25 percent -- roughly $26 million -- from the West Valley Project budget. The decommission project funds solid waste stabilization and disposition activities and nuclear facility decontamination and decommissioning activities at West Valley.
   Clinton cites the reduced funding and scope of DOE's plan to pull out of West Valley by 2008 "raises serious questions about whether the DOE will fulfill its responsibilities at West Valley."
   "If the reports are correct, it would appear that the DOE's plan would not result in a site cleanup that is adequate or consistent with the intent of the Act," Clinton writes.
   The budget reduction in funding reflects the completion of decontamination efforts and characterization of the former spent fuel reprocessing facility, including the General Purpose Cell, Process Mechanical Cell, and Extraction Cell #2.
   Congress established the West Valley Demonstration Project Act legislation in 1980. Under the Act, the DOE was given broad responsibility for cleaning up the West Valley site as a part of the Demonstration Project. In her letter Clinton writes "West Valley employees and the surrounding community have worked hard to make the Project a national model. They deserve the full commitment of the DOE as the Project continues to move forward."
   On Jan. 16, 2004, DOE published a notice of availability of an Environmental Impact statement for the West Valley Demonstration Project, located on the Western New York Nuclear Service Center. The Center comprises about five square miles in West Valley, N.Y.
   The Center operated under a license issued by the Atomic Energy Commission (now the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission) in 1966 to Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. and the New York State Atomic and Space Development Authority, now known as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
   The project premises are the property of the NYSERDA and represents only 200 acres of the larger Western New York Service Center, which is approximately 3,300 acres, also owned by NYSERDA. After DOE's responsibilities under the Act are complete, the Act requires that the premises be returned to New York State. Until that time, the Act requires New York State to pay 10 percent of the Project costs, and the Energy Department pays the remaining 90 percent.
   The Center was the site of a commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, which was the only one to have operated in the United States. W.R. Grace & Company and American Machine & Foundry Company formed NFS, Inc. in 1964. Construction was completed on the West Valley fuel processing plant in 1965.
   According to DOE's summary of the West Valley site, NFS operated the site as a nuclear fuel-reprocessing center from 1966 to 1972, and accepts radioactive waste for disposal until 1975. NFS was acquired by Getty Oil and Skelly Oil in 1969. Texaco, Inc. acquired the company in 1984 after a buyout of Getty Oil.
   Fuel reprocessing ended in 1972 when the plant was shut down for modifications to increase its capacity, reduce occupational radiation exposure, and reduce radioactive effluents. During the operation of the plant, 640 metric tons of spent reactor fuels were processed, resulting in 660,000 gallons of highly radioactive liquid waste. The liquid waste was stored in an underground waste tank. NFS also utilized a 15-acre area for the disposal of radioactive waste from commercial waste generators, and another seven-acre landfill is used to dispose of radioactive waste generated from reprocessing.
   During reprocessing, spent nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear power plants and DOE sites was chopped, dissolved, and processed by a solvent extraction system to recover uranium and plutonium. In 1976, NFS estimated that over $600 million would be required to modify the facility to increase its capacity and to comply with changes in regulatory standards. As a result, the company withdrew from the nuclear fuel reprocessing business. NFS exercised its contractual right to yield responsibility for the Center to NYSERDA, which now holds title to and manages the Center.