The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced on 7 April that it had awarded a contract to SC&A, a Virginia-based environmental and energy consultant, to develop a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Procurement for the West Valley Demonstration Project (WVDP). The contract, valued at $16.9m over five years, relates to the second phase of decommissioning at the site. WVDP, the USA’s only commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing facility,  operated between 1966 and 1972.

The services to be provided under the contract include, but are not limited to, the development of Phase 2 Decision-making for the WVDP and Western New York Nuclear Service Center (WNYNSC), Phase 2 Decision-making Schedule for the WVDP, WNYNSC, and State-Licensed Disposal Area, Phase 2 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Scoping Activities, Development of Phase 2 Alternatives, Preparation of Conceptual Engineering Design Reports, Preparation of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, Preparation of a Decommissioning Plan, and Preparation of Applications for Permitting or Licensing Modifications for the State-Licensed Disposal Area.

WVDP achieved two important milestones in 2016 – the removal of 275 high-level radioactive waste canisters from the main process building, and the off-site shipment of legacy waste. Bryan Bower, DOE director of the West Valley cleanup discussed  January week the path to Phase 2 decommissioning and warned members of the West Valley Citizens Task Force that the plan was complicated. The key, he said, is a timeline that will dovetail current and future studies on the scope of work. Bower said he was confident it will work because both the federal and state governments are committed. The West Valley Citizens Task Force, which includes some members of the watchdog Coalition on West Valley Nuclear Wastes, has regular meetings at which it questions site officials and the contractor, CH2M Hill BWXT West Valley.

As more of the Phase 1 work is accomplished, preliminary work is already underway on the scope of the phase 2 cleanup, including long-term computer modelling of erosion at the site in the town of Ashford as part of a phased decision making process where more complicated future issues are studied while initial cleanup activities proceed.

When Nuclear Fuel Services abandoned the site in 1976, it left significant nuclear contamination that the state and federal governments have spent more than $2bn on clean up. A total clean up could cost more than that again. DOE and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NWSERDA) assumed authority over the site under the West Valley Demonstration Project Act of 1980. The goal in 2017 is to continue with the deactivation of the main process building where the 275 high level radioactive waste canisters were stored before being moved to an outdoor concrete pad. Once the building is cleaned of radioactive material as well as asbestos and other hazardous material, it will be demolished  probably in 2019. In the meantime, the adjacent vitrification facility, apart from the melter,  will be ready for removal later this year, according to Bower. The three main parts of the huge melter were removed from the building and taken to a licensed Texas facility for disposal.

After the main process building is demolished, the below ground foundation will be removed along with the source of a strontium 90 leak dating to the early days of the plant. That leak has made its way into a nearby stream, but has since been intercepted by an underground permeable treatment barrier.

As this and other cleanup work costing $60m a year continues, DOE and NYSERDA are funding studies about what to do with what’s left at the site. This includes: the waste tank farm that held the liquid radioactive waste that was turned into glass, specifically two 750,000 carbon steel underground tanks and two smaller tanks; a Nuclear Regulatory Commission-licensed low-level radioactive waste disposal area; a state-licensed low-level radioactive waste disposal area; and a construction demolition debris landfill.

Under terms of the 2010 Final Environmental Impact Statement, decisions on these aspects of the Phase 2 decommissioning will be made by DOE and NYSERDA by 2020.

Another Phase 2 objective is removal from the site of the 56 concrete casks containing the 275 stainless steel canisters filled with radioactive glass. The shutdown eight years ago of the Yucca Mountain Project in Nevada left the waste without any repository. A recent DOE agreement to consider the reclassification of the high-level waste as defence-related could open the door for its removal to a Defence Department storage/disposal site.