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N-agency tells residents about its role in site cleanup

Representatives from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were on hand last week for an informal meeting with about 20 area residents to explain the agency's role in the decommissioning decisions for the Western New York Nuclear Service Center.

"Normally, we have approval authority," Keith I. McConnell said as he explained his agency's role in the Department of Energy's cleanup efforts and a related decommissioning plan. McConnell is the NRC's deputy director for decommissioning and uranium recovery licensing.

The 1980 West Valley Demonstration Project Act authorized the Department of Energy to take over the center and decontaminate and decommission the site.

The decommissioning plan -- independent from the Department of Energy's draft environmental impact statement -- sets criteria for the first phase of a two-phase cleanup alternative, also described in the impact statement. The decommissioning plan assumes a preferred cleanup alternative will be chosen by the DOE in a final impact statement, scheduled to be released next spring. But if another cleanup solution is chosen, a new decommissioning plan will have to be drawn up and then reviewed by the NRC.

The preferred alternative describes a new on-site storage facility to hold 275 canisters of solidified, high-level radioactive wastes, and demolition and removal of the main plant process building where the waste is now stored.

The removal would include below-ground sections of the plant and the source of an underground plume of radioactive contaminants. The alternative also lists other tasks, including the removal of a low-level waste water treatment facility, lagoons and facilities not involved in the maintenance of a waste tank farm, the plume and a federal nuclear disposal area.

The DOE would then evaluate soil containing higher contamination levels and create a strategy for a state-licensed disposal area. The assessments could take 30 years as preparation for the permanent Phase 2 decisions -- closing the waste tank farm and the federal nuclear disposal area.

Under the NRC's current review of the decommissioning plan, additional information has been requested but no fatal flaws have been found, McConnell said.

The NRC also has responsibility to monitor the cleanup when it begins and perform technical surveys of conditions on the 200 acres targeted in the effort.

The deadline for public comment ended earlier this month, generating calls for full removal of the highly radioactive wastes at the former commercial nuclear reprocessing facility which closed in 1972.

Several of those in attendance questioned radiation exposure levels associated with the cleanup effort and the timing of the cleanup decision and the removal of stored canisters of the solidified high-level radioactive wastes.

The NRC visit is expected to be a part of the discussion at the West Valley Citizen Task Force meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Ashford Office Complex, 9030 Route 219. That meeting will follow a guided site visit of the West Valley Demonstration Project to view progress of recent cleanup efforts there. Task Force meetings are open to the public.

e-mail: citydesk@buffnews.com

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