Press photo by Rick Miller
Paul M. Dabber (center), U.S. Energy Department undersecretary for science, toured the West Valley Demonstration Project Monday with Bryan Bower (right), DOE site director, and deputy Craig Rieman (left).

By Rick Miller

Energy Undersecretary for Science Paul M. Dabbar made his first visit Monday to the West Valley Demonstration Project and came away impressed with progress in the cleanup and the employees.

Following a tour with Bryan Bower, West Valley site director for the Department of Energy, Deputy Director Craig Rieman and others, Dabbar said the West Valley cleanup “is one of the most important DOE projects.”

Dabbar worked at several New York nuclear power plants before becoming an investment banker with J.P. Morgan, where he was managing director of mergers and acquisitions when tapped for the DOE post. He learned nuclear engineering in the U.S. Navy, serving aboard a nuclear submarine.

“There has been a lot of near term progress” in the West Valley cleanup, Dabbar said. Most notably he pointed to the spot adjacent to the Main Process Building where the vitrification building used to stand.

Dabbar said the West Valley vitrification plant, which mixed high-level radioactive liquid waste with chemicals to make glass, “spearheaded” the technology now being utilized at other DOE sites including Savannah River, S.C., and soon at Hanford, Wash.

West Valley engineers designed, built, operated and then tore down the vitrification plant, Dabbar said. “It’s a real success. Whenever we have a cleanup we learn a lot.”

Asked whether a decision had been made on an open-air demolition of the Main Process Building, Dabbar replied that some things had not been finalized between DOE and officials from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). It has been delayed indefinitely.

Dabbar said the demolition of the vitrification building was another learning experience regarding the characterization and packaging of the debris. “It is applicable to the main building,” he added.

The demolition of the main plant building was seen as the end of phase 1 of the cleanup, although that milestone will be delayed somewhat.

Dabbar said areas of the main plant have different levels of radioactivity that will require different measures. It is more than 95% deactivated, according to the contractor CHBWV.

Dabbar said that while a demolition plan for the Main Process Building “is not fully identified.” There is different contamination on different areas. Officials are “attacking it room by room, planning it room by room.”