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West Valley Reprocessing Plant

West Valley Reprocessing Plant is a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at West Valley, New York, USA. It was operated successfully from 1966-72. During this time period, 660,000 gallons of highly radioactive waste accumulated in an underground waste tank. Escalating regulation required plant modifications which were deemed uneconomic, and the plant was shut down.


In 1961 the state of New York acquired 3,345 acres (14 km²) of land in the town of Ashford, New York, near West Valley, for the Western New York Nuclear Service Center (WNYNSC). The next year Davison Chemical Company established Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. (NFS) as a reprocessing company, and leased the WNYNSC. Governor Nelson Rockefeller was responsible for the contract; he was under the impression that the establishment of a nuclear industry in New York would create over 2,000 new jobs.

NFS developed 200 acres (809,000 m²) of the land and operated a nuclear fuel reprocessing center from 1966 to 1972. 640 metric tons of spent reactor fuel were processed, with a plant capacity of 300 tons per year. The plant accepted radioactive waste for disposal until 1975.

During the operation of the plant 660,000 US gallons (2,500 m³) of highly radioactive liquid waste were generated. The liquid waste was stored in an underground waste tank. Also stored on the site are 170 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods, 140,000 cubic feet of solid waste, and 2.4 million cubic feet of buried Low level waste. NFS also used a 15 acre (61,000 m²) area for the disposal of radioactive waste from commercial waste generators, and another seven acre (28,000 m²) landfill to dispose of radioactive waste generated from reprocessing.

The plant was continually criticized for the lax security measures that it imposed on workers. Records from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) indicate that workers at NFS were exposed to the highest doses of radiation of any chemical workers in the country. Federal guidelines created a limit of 5 rems a year of exposure for any worker. However, a worker was allowed to receive up to 12 rems every year afterwards - as long as he averaged 5 rems a year. For this reason, NFS notoriously hired temporary workers who were previously unexposed to radiation. These temporary workers often worked for a few days before they reached the maximum exposure. They were given little, if any, instruction or supervision and were not informed about the risks involving exposure to radiation. There were often many more temporary workers than permanent ones, which created a dangerous situation due to the likelihood of increased accidents as a result of the inexperienced temporary workers. Tools were stolen from the plant and sold, spreading radiation. Radiation detectors often failed to work properly, and workers who were contaminated with radiation were allowed to return home, spreading radiation to their homes and families.

In 1976 NFS decided the costs and regulatory requirements of reprocessing (originally estimated to be $15 million but later reported at a figure of $600 million) made the venture impractical. The probability of a major earthquake in the area was also considered to pose too great of a risk to continue operations. The company left the site after its lease expired on December 31, 1980, transferring ownership and responsibility for the waste and facility to the state of New York, as previously agreed upon in the contract created under Governor Rockefeller. The waste must be stored in an underground carbon-steel tank for around 200,000 years before it loses its radioactive potency.

On October 1, 1980 the West Valley Demonstration Project Act, Public Law 96-368, was signed directing the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to take the lead role in solidifying the liquid high-level waste and decontaminating and decommissioning the facilities at West Valley. In 1982 the Department of Energy selected West Valley Nuclear Services (WVNS), a Westinghouse subsidiary, to manage and operate the site. Control of the 200 acre (809,000 m²) developed site is turned over to DOE; the project is named the West Valley Demonstration Project (WVDP). The next year vitrification, or the incorporation of high-level radioactive waste into glass, was selected as the preferred method for solidifying the waste NFS left at West Valley.

In 1987 the decision to dispose of low-level waste at the WVDP lead to a legal disagreement between DOE and the Coalition on West Valley Nuclear Wastes. The disagreement was settled by a Stipulation of Compromise, which stated low-level waste disposal at the site and the potential effects of erosion on the site be included in a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Project completion.

In 1996 radioactive vitrification began. The highly successful operation continued into 2001, producing 275 10 foot-tall stainless steel canisters of hardened radioactive glass.

In 1999 Vitrification Expended Materials Processing (VEMP) was initiated to begin processing unserviceable equipment in the Vitrification Facility. VEMP’s success helped in the development of a Remote Handled Waste Facility (RHWF) to process large-scale, highly-contaminated equipment excessed during decontamination and decommissioning activities. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the RHWF were held in 2000, with operation expected in 2004.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "West_Valley_Reprocessing_Plant". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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