Status of Efforts To Clean Up the Shut-Down Western New York Nuclear Service Center

Gao ID: EMD-80-69 June 6, 1980

The Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. (NFS) plant at West Valley, New York is the only commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing facility to have operated in the United States. The plant, which closed in 1972, reprocessed about 640 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel and generated about 600,000 gallons of high-level liquid nuclear waste during its 6-year operating period. In 1976, NFS decided not to reopen the plant because of cost-prohibitive safety measures imposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The liquid nuclear waste, spent fuel, solid nuclear wastes, and equipment and structures contaminated during reprocessing are being safely stored and maintained at the site. Costs for a permanent solution for the entire site were estimated by the Department of Energy (DOE) to be between $41.6 million and $1.1 billion. NFS wishes to leave the site by December 31, 1980, when its contract with the State of New York expires. However, under the complex contractual arrangements, no Federal, State, or private entity has accepted responsibility for dealing with the issues involved in decommissioning the plant. GAO was requested to report on the progress Government agencies have made in addressing these problems.

The State, which owns the site, believes the Federal Government should assume a large portion of the responsibility for cleaning up West Valley because it has legal responsibility and the necessary technical and financial resources. The Department of Energy (DOE) is working on many tasks necessary to plan for the retrieval and solidification of the waste, and will spend about $3 million in fiscal year 1980 to characterize the wase problem and to dertermine how to deal with it. Legislation is being considered which would direct DOE to conduct a high-level waste retrieval and solidification demonstration project at West Valley which would establish the Federal responsibility for the wastes and require DOE to assume most of the technical and financial responsibility for the project. GAO believes that the most practical solution to the problem would involve a cooperative program betwen the Federal Government and the State of New York. While the Government has no contractual responsibility for the site, the Nation could benefit from using the facilities. State and Federal agencies believe that the low-level waste burial ground and spent fuel storage facilities could probably be safely reopened and expanded to accommodate the waste and spent fuel generated within the State of New York and may be useful in resolving some of the storage problems for the entire northeastern part of the country.

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