Cover marks milestone for US vitrification plant demolition

07 March 2019

Installation of a final cover has marked the end of physical work associated with the demolition of a former vitrification plant at the US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management's West Valley Demonstration Project (WVDP), the only commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plant to have operated in the USA.

The cover is rolled over the Vitrification Facility concrete slab (Image: DOE EM)

Work to demolish the three-storey, 10,700 square foot (994 square metre) structure was completed in September. The multi-phase demolition process involved the removal of the least-contaminated exterior parts of the facility; dismantling the heavily reinforced concrete process cell and remaining in-cell equipment; and the demolition of the crane maintenance room and transfer tunnel. Some 10,000 cubic feet of material, including a 195-ton melter and two tanks weighing over 150 tons each, had to be removed from the facility before demolition could begin. The weather-shielding cover which has now been installed over the remaining concrete slab will prevent water from infiltrating into the portion of the facility that is below ground-level.

Workers pull and smooth out the cover over the Vitrification Facility concrete slab (Image: DOE EM)
Dan Sullivan, WVDP federal project director for the Vitrification Facility demolition, said the team continues to work to eliminate potential environmental threats and reduce the site's footprint.

"Their safe and compliant work demonstrates their deliberate and methodical approach to decommissioning," he said.

The Western New York Nuclear Service Center at the West Valley site, near Ashford in the state of New York, operated as from 1966 to 1972. It was the only commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plant to have operated in the USA. The WVDP was established through a 1980 Act of Congress under which the DOE was made responsible for solidifying the high-level waste from the plant's reprocessing activities, remaining HLW WVDP was established in 1980 to fulfil the DOE's responsibility for solidifying the high-level waste, disposing of the waste created by the solidification, and decommissioning the facilities used in the process. The land and facilities are the property of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

West-Valley-vitrification-plant-cover-3-(DOE-EM).jpg The Vitrification Facility demolition area after installation of the cover. The Main Plant, which is in the process of being deactivated, is in the background (Image: DOE EM)
The vitrification facility was constructed in the 1980s to solidify the wastes. Pre-treatment of waste began in 1988 with vitrification activities taking place from 1996 to 2002 during which 24 million curies of radioactivity were solidified in 600 tons of glass contained in 275 stainless steel canisters. The canisters - plus three canisters of decontamination waste - have been loaded into on-site storage casks until a permanent repository is available.

The primary operating contractor is CHBWV, which is made up of  CH2M HILL Constructors Inc, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Group, Inc, and Environmental Chemical Corporation. The projected cost to for the entire WVDP cleanup is USD1.87-2.05 billion, with completion expected in 2040-2045.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News