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Contractors take a look at Parks nuclear waste site

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 12:52 a.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Potential cleanup contractors are given a tour of the former NUMEC dump site in Parks Township on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispattch
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Potential cleanup contractors are given a tour of the former NUMEC dump site in Parks Township on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

It was the biggest crowd the radioactive waste dump in Parks Township has had in some time.

Representatives from 20 different firms from around the country visited the 44-acre site along Route 66, according to Mike Helbling, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is leading the half-billion dollar cleanup project.

Owned by BWX Technologies and formally known as the Shallow Land Disposal Area, the dump received radioactive and chemical waste from about 1960 to the early 1970s. The former Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC) in Apollo and Parks, and its successor, the Atlantic Richfield Co., buried the waste from producing nuclear fuel for submarines and a range of nuclear products for the federal government and private industry.

The Corps is pleased with the amount of interest from contractors to bid on the project, said Helbling. The Corps issued a draft request for proposal on Dec. 19.

“We're thrilled with the response,” he said, “and we believe that will help promote robust competition.”

Cleanup operations halted only six weeks after they began in fall 2011 when the Corps' contractor, Cabrera Services, Inc., allegedly mishandled some nuclear waste and workers unearthed unexpected quantities of “complex” nuclear materials.

Given the greater complexity of the cleanup and soaring cost estimates, Corps headquarters in Washington reconsidered its lead position in the cleanup last year.

After public outcry to keep the Corps on the project and closed-door meetings in Washington, D.C., the Corps announced it would continue to lead the project but would work closely with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Now the Corps is looking for a new contractor to resume cleanup operations. The earliest date that the agency would select a contractor would be the fourth quarter of 2013, according to Helbling.

Then, the contractor would have to present a cleanup plan, which must meet Corps approval. The site would have to be prepared for more excavation, including the installation of a new water treatment system, Helbling said.

“The plan is to begin excavating in the spring of 2015,” he said.

Cabrera is still on site for snow removal and maintenance, while security is still present round the clock, Helbling added.

The Corps will continue to review the cleanup because the projected cost of the cleanup substantially exceeded its original cost estimate from $45 million in 2007 to up to $500 million currently.

As part of the process, the public will have a chance to comment on the cleanup plan sometime in April and May, Helbling said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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