NOTE: Neither assignment of federal responsibility for federally sourced wastes nor the extent of cleanup at West Valley has been determined by this settlement, although those were the fundamental purposes of this 2006 NYSERDA lawsuit against DOE; the settlement simply establishes various federal/State cost sharing splits to cover the removal of the 2% of waste addressed by the DOE's preferred DEIS alternative and continued onsite management for 98% of the site's wastes for another 30 years.
Settlement of nuclear cleanup nears completion By Kathy Kellogg
June 27, 2009, 7:01 AM
ASHFORD — A settlement may be close at hand in the state’s legal battle with the federal government over cleanup issues and costs for the former nuclear fuel reprocessing facility near West Valley.
A confidential settlement agreement has been drafted as part of the court-ordered mediation in a federal lawsuit, filed in 2006 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA) against the Department of Energy (DOE).
NYSERDA’s Board met recently in Albany and adopted a resolution endorsing the settlement, which was then passed to the DOE for review.
“It deals with the allocation of financial responsibilities,” said Paul Bembia of NYSERDA. “There will be certainty what each agency is responsible for.”
Bembia updated members of the West Valley Citizen Task Force on the tentative agreement during the cleanup advisory panel’s monthly meeting Wednesday in the Ashford Office Complex. He expressed hope that long-standing differences will no longer pose problems for the agencies’ mutual cooperation on cleanup measures.
He said the terms of the agreement represent some progress but for now must remain confidential, adding that it does not spell out a remedy for cleanup. Once both sides agree to the settlement terms it will be filed with the federal court that ordered the talks.
Bembia said the two parties are still negotiating a public review process that will begin after the agreement is made public. The tentative settlement comes during a public comment period on the draft environmental impact statement for the decommissioning and/or long-term stewardship at the site of a former commercial nuclear waste reprocessing facility and the West Valley Demonstration Project. The DOE announced recently that June 8 comment deadline would be extended 90 days.
NYSERDA filed the lawsuit in December 2006, several months after announcing it was considering withdrawing from its role as a joint lead agency in the review of the environmental impact statement. At the time, NYSERDA officials expressed fears that DOE was preparing to close some of the highly contaminated facilities, leave wastes in place and return the site to the state for long-term oversight.
The state is the owner of the 3,300-acre property but the DOE was ordered in 1980 by Congress to solidify high-level liquid wastes in a vitrification demonstration project, and to decontaminate and decommission facilities at the site.
NYSERDA maintained that decommissioning must include exhumation of wastes and contamination sources, such as underground high-level waste tanks, a reprocessing building, a state-licensed disposal area maintained by NYSERDA, and a Nuclear Regulatory Commission-licensed disposal area under the management of the DOE.
Also at issue is the long-term responsibility for an underground liquid plume of strontium-90 that has migrated into a nearby watershed feeding Cattaraugus Creek. There, it is considered by DOE to be harmless to public health but could pose future environmental problems under state jurisdiction.
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