By Rick Miller
WEST VALLEY — After a tour of the West Valley Demonstration Project site Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Tom Reed said he continues to favor a full cleanup at the former nuclear fuel reprocessing site.
“Total cleanup is the ultimate goal,” Reed said after touring the area in a misty rain with Bryan Bower, U.S. Department of Energy site director, and Jeff Bradford, president of site contractor CHBWV.
The kind of cleanup Reed said is needed just off of Rock Springs Road includes removal of the huge underground steel tanks that once held highly radioactive liquid waste, as well as the low-level waste landfills operated by the state and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Reed added a cleanup would include “taking all the facilities down to ground level, (and getting) the long term viability of the land restored.”
“There’s a great team here taking care of things day in and day out,” Reed told reporters as an excavator worked nearby to demolish the vitrification building where radioactive liquid waste was once mixed with molten glass. “I think they are doing an outstanding job.”
Reed said he was recently able to secure an additional $10 million in the 2018 federal budget for the West Valley cleanup. The DOE has been budgeting about $65 million a year toward cleanup efforts over the past several years. The additional $10 million means WVDP will receive $75 million over the next year.
To help obtain the added funding, Reed said, he worked with the Appropriations Committee to “let them know this is something we care deeply about and you can see the return on investment.”
While Reed said officials agreed on the scope of the cleanup, he emphasized it is a long-term undertaking. Therefore, he added, officials are unable to give a timeline because it is largely dependent on federal funding and the availability of a federal repository for the nuclear waste.
The West Valley site operated under Nuclear Fuel Services from 1966 to 1972, recycling spent nuclear fuel rods, reclaiming plutonium and uranium. The cleanup began in 1980 with passage of the West Valley Demonstration Project Act.
Bower, who has served as director of the West Valley site for the past decade, estimated recently that a total cleanup would cost about $6 billion. The DOE and New York State have already spent more than $2 billion on the cleanup.
“We’re going to continue to be a voice for them, even in future budget cycles,” Reed said. “You are talking billions of dollars for a total removal versus much less than that. It has to be a balanced approach, I recognize that, but I want to be a voice to see this site completely resolved.”
Reed said the DOE, the state’s Energy Research and Development Authority and contractor CHBWV have brought a “studied, reasoned approach” to the project. He said he has seen “great progress” in reducing the footprint of the site with numerous buildings demolished and removed over several years — adding the constant tapping sound of the excavator taking down the vitrification building “is music to my ears.”
Bower said DOE officials will work with CHBWV “to look at how we can maximize the use of that money. We’ll be looking to see if we can accelerate some activities at the site.”
The congressman said his office has not yet made official comments on the SEIS, or Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.
“We’re letting them go through the scoping process,” Reed said, which has included at least three public comment sessions throughout March about what a future cleanup should include.
“It’s good to see the public engaging,” Reed said. “We want to make sure (the cleanup) is done safely, that the long term viability of this site is taken into consideration and also how we get there with the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”