The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) said it has met one of its cleanup priorities for 2022 by beginning demolition of the Main Plant Process Building (MPPB) at the West Valley Demonstration Project (WVDP) in New York. Located 35 miles south of Buffalo, the 150-acre WVDP site is home to the only commercial spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facility to operate in the United States.
According to EM, removal of the Main Plant, which was used to recover reusable plutonium and uranium from reprocessed spent fuel, further reduces environmental risks and positions the site for the next phase of cleanup. Teardown of the MPPB, one of West Valley’s last remaining major facilities, is expected to be completed in about 30 months.
“The safety of the workforce, community, and surrounding environment remain WVDP’s top priority, and all precautions have been taken to ensure MPPB deconstruction activities align with this ever-important priority,” said Stephen Bousquet, EM’s MPPB project director.
The prep work: According to EM, its WVDP workforce conducted significant work over the past two decades to prepare the five-story, 35,100-square-foot reinforced concrete building for demolition in a manner protective of human health and the surrounding environment.
Workers safely reduced radioactivity in the facility by over 98 percent by removing more than seven miles of contaminated piping and over 50 tons of contaminated equipment. They also used liquid nitrogen—up to 60,000 pounds per square inch—as part of an aggressive yet safe cleaning application. Workers completed those activities in August, allowing for the demolition to begin the week of September 19.
The planned approach for taking down the MPPB incorporates best practices and lessons learned from WVDP and across the DOE complex, including the use of deliberately planned and sequenced deconstruction and implementation of robust work controls, EM said.
Background: Operating from 1963 to 1972, WVDP processed 640 metric tons of spent fuel and generated over 600,000 gallons of liquid high-level radioactive waste. In 1980, Congress passed the WVDP Act, which required the DOE to conduct a high-level waste management demonstration project at the site and transport it to a federal repository for disposal.
The site is owned by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. CH2M HILL BWXT West Valley was selected by the DOE in 2011 as the WVDP cleanup contractor.