An official from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is expected to make the agency’s case Friday on Capitol Hill that the West Valley Demonstration Project is home to defense-related waste.
It’s a distinction the state hopes will provide a quicker path to permanent disposal given the federal Land Withdrawal Act allows the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico to take defense waste for permanent disposal. Otherwise, West Valley could be waiting on the long-promised repository for commercial waste.
Noah Shaw, NYSERDA general counsel and officer in charge of the West Valley Program, is scheduled to testify before the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce environment subcommittee. The panel is considering legislation from Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) to reauthorize West Valley through 2026 and redefine its radioactive waste as specifically defense-related.
Congressional legislation in 1980 put the Energy Department in charge of cleanup of the western New York site that was once home to a Nuclear Fuel Services facility for spent fuel reprocessing. As it was not a government plant, West Valley is not considered part of the Cold War weapons program, although much of its waste is similar to transuranic waste sent to DOE’s WIPP site.
Solidification of the high-level waste was completed in 2002, and the resulting 278 canisters of this material has been placed onto an on-site pad for interim storage. Cemented low-level waste has already been sent to the Nevada National Security Site for disposal, according to NYSERDA.
Sixty percent of the spent nuclear fuel reprocessed at West Valley resulted from defense activities at the Hanford Site in Washington state, and another 15 percent came from research facilities or other power reactors under contract to the federal government, NYSERDA spokeswoman Claudette Thornton by email Monday.
“In fact, only 25 percent of the SNF [spent nuclear fuel] reprocessed at West Valley came from civilian nuclear power plants,” Thornton said. Additionally, the NFS West plant produced plutonium nitrate and uranyl nitrate solutions of which approximately 80 percent was shipped back to Hanford for defense purposes, she added.
The West Valley Demonstration Project covers about 200 acres of the 3,300-acre Western New York Nuclear Service Center in the town of Ashford.