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OPTIMISM AIRED AFTER TALKS ON WEST VALLEY N-WASTE CLEANUP

State and federal officials continued their negotiations this week into how the cleanup at the contaminated Western New York Nuclear Service Center in West Valley will proceed and how the cost of that work will be divvied up.

Negotiators from the federal Department of Energy and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, who met Wednesday and Thursday in Buffalo, expressed optimism that the talks will result in an agreement by May.

In a visit to West Valley in May, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson challenged negotiators to conclude talks within a year on how the cleanup will continue at what was the country's only private nuclear fuel reprocessing center.

"We are aware of what the secretary set out and we are factoring it into the negotiations," said the state agency's vice president, Bill Flynn, one of the negotiators. "New York State is still optimistic that we are going to have an agreement which will be fair to equitable to the state and federal government."

Jim Turi, lead negotiator for the Department of Energy, said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the negotiations can be concluded before May.

The state agency and the Department of Energy have been partners in the West Valley Demonstration Project, which has successfully removed almost 600,000 gallons of dangerous liquid nuclear waste from rusting underground tanks on the site. The liquid was then transformed into a more manageable glasslike solid.

But the 200-acre site still has a number of toxic hot spots, including two large underground dumps and a number of buildings storing low-level radioactive waste.

The federal government has ab-sorbed 90 percent of the cost of the $1.64 billion demonstration project, the state 10 percent. One of the issues in the current negotiations is whether that ratio will change.

"Everyone agrees everybody shares the cost," Turi said. "Each element may have a different sharing arrangement; then again, it may be the same. It's very fluid at this stage. There are lots of things on the table, and nothing's been ruled out."

Among the other issues is how much the state will have to pay for long-term storage of the glasslike radioactive waste at the federal government's proposed storage facility in Yucca Mountain, Nev.

The original owners of the plant, Nuclear Fuel Services, set aside a perpetual-care fund to help deal with potential problems at the site, and the two sides have agreed to use that money for long-term storage, but there is only about $20 million in the fund.

The current federal estimate for storing the waste is $150 million.

Turi said negotiators will meet again sometime early next month.

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