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The transfer of a 54-ton piece of radioactive equipment from a building at the West Valley Demonstration Project has been stalled after one of four wheels on the rail cart carrying the equipment went off track.

Terry Dunford, a spokesman for the contractor doing the work at the project, said the incident occurred Monday while the piece of equipment was being moved from the vitrification building to an equipment decontamination room.

Dunford stressed that the derailment occurred inside a shielded building and that there was "no spillage, no one hurt and no releases of radioactivity."

The 12-foot-square box, called the vitrification melter, was used to help make the glasslike substance that was mixed with highly radioactive liquid waste pumped out of deteriorating, underground tanks.

The mixture was formed into solid canisters that are being stored on site in a shielded structure that was built in the 1960s when the site was the country's only private nuclear fuel reprocessing center.

T.J. Jackson, acting director of the project for the federal Department of Energy, called the derailment "a little hiccup" in what has been an otherwise successful push to empty the vitrification building.

"It's still behind shielded walls, and it's not a problem," he said.

Both Dunford and Jackson said workers were formulating a plan to place the rail cart back on the track.

"This is something we're going to engineer," Dunford said. "We engineer solutions every day." Jackson said the latest plan is to have the wheelback on the track by Saturday.

The melter will eventually be put in a 5-inch-thick steel box and stored outside while it awaits shipment off-site. Two other large pieces of radioactive equipment from the vitrification building are already stored in steel boxes outside.

"We believe we have a (long-term) disposal path for all three," Jackson said, adding that they could end up at a Department of Energy facility in Nevada.


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