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With negotiations on how to eventually close the former West Valley nuclear fuel reprocessing center stalled, the federal Department of Energy proposed Monday a plan to continue decontaminating the site and shipping radioactive material elsewhere.

Instead of waiting to conclude talks with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority -- the DOE's partner in the successful work of solidifying West Valley's most dangerous waste -- on long-term stewardship and decommissioning of the site, DOE staff member Dan Sullivan described a new plan to members of the citizens task force monitoring work at West Valley.

The DOE wants to split up a draft environmental-impact statement, proposed in 1996, which called for both a continuing cleanup and an eventual plan for closing the site, into two separate environmental impact statements.

The move comes after negotiations between the DOE and NYSERDA about how to proceed with the congressionally mandated cleanup at West Valley stalled over the issue of who will take long-term stewardship of the site.

NYSERDA President Bill Valentino gave lukewarm support for the DOE plan.

"It isn't anything we proposed," Valentino said. "We don't have any objection and we see certain benefits because it will help accelerate removing waste off the site. However, it has to be monitored closely so it doesn't jeopardize the long-term closure recommendation of the site."

Negotiations between the DOE and NYSERDA continue, and Susan Brechbill, the DOE's Ohio regional manager, said she is "cautiously optimistic" that they would come to a successful conclusion before a new president is elected.

"We've intensified negotiations over the last five months," she said. "We are very close on a number of issues, but we don't agree on everything."

Brechbill told the citizens group there is some urgency because a new administration may not want to be bound by the agreement that NYSERDA and the DOE have on issues other than long-term decommissioning of the site.

Brechbill and Sullivan told the group they are proposing the split to meet federal Environmental Policy Act regulations and to insure that funding for the project continues.

Under the new DOE plan, the cleanup would continue with the decontamination of some buildings, such as the old reprocessing facility and the building built to turn liquid radioactive waste stored in decaying underground tanks into a more stable glass-like solid that is being stored in the old reprocessing building.

All the material inside those buildings would be removed and shipped to waste disposal sites elsewhere, as would other low-level radioactive material now being stored on the site. That would take about 10 years, Sullivan estimated.

But the still-contaminated buildings would remain, as would the waste buried in two underground dumps on the site. Officials also have to figure how to plume. Dealing with those issues would be part of a separate environmental impact statement, which would set standards for eventually closing the facility.

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