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West Valley Reprocessing Plant was a formerly operational plant for the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel at West Valley, New York, USA. It was operated 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.

History

In 1961 the state of New Yorkmarker acquired 3,345 acres (14 km²) of land in the town of Ashford, New Yorkmarker, near West Valley, for the Western New York Nuclear Service Center (WNYNSC). The next year the 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 the nuclear fuel reprocessing facility from 1966 to 1972. 640 metric tons of used nuclear fuel were processed, with a plant capacity of 300 tons per year.

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 used nuclear fuel assemblies, of solid waste, and of buried low-level radioactively contaminated wastes. 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.

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, or recovered for its content of useful uranium, plutonium and fission products.

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 radioactive 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 was 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, vitrification of liquid high-level radioactive wastes 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. The success of VEMP 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.

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