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Government agencies agree on roles in Parks nuclear waste cleanup

Toxic dump

The nuclear waste dump on Route 66 in Parks is owned by BWX Technologies (known as Babcock & Wilcox). The dump received radioactive and chemical waste from the former Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp., or NUMEC, in Apollo and Parks from about 1960 to the early 1970s.

It formally is known as the Shallow Land Disposal Area.

Monday, May 12, 2014, 12:51 a.m.
 

Four federal government agencies, including one that deals with nuclear weapons materials, have agreed on their collective roles for the cleanup of the nuclear waste dump in Parks Township.

The cleanup, which could cost as much as $500 million, has been mired in red tape as the Army Corps of Engineers, the lead agency for the estimated 10-year cleanup, had to halt the project in 2011.

Skyrocketing costs, problems with contractors and the potential for greater amounts of complex nuclear materials at the site have caused delays in developing a revised action plan.

Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, has been pushing for an agreement among the federal agencies to get the cleanup back on track.

The details of the agreement have not yet been released.

According to a May 2 letter to Casey from Allison Macfarlane, chair of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agencies have agreed and are in the process of circulating the legal document for signatures.

John Rizzo, Casey's spokesman, said that they need to see the agreement among the federal agencies to comment.

New agency in the mix

A government spokeswoman said the newest twist in the agreement is the inclusion of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages nuclear materials that could be used for nuclear weapons.

The other agencies are the Corps, NRC and Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management.

Calls to the National Nuclear Security Administration for comment were not returned on Friday afternoon.

The Corps contractor unearthed U-233 at the Parks site, which is considered a special nuclear material. In sufficient quantities, U-233 can be used in the production of a clandestine fissile bomb.

There are other special nuclear materials, such as enriched U-235 and plutonium that are known to be at the Parks dump.

According to Maureen Conley, an NRC spokeswoman, special nuclear materials need special handling and control because of a potential nuclear reaction and security concerns.

The Corps have had to make plans to handle any material that they find on site. A recent investigation by the NRC Inspector General's office found that neither the government agencies nor the owners of the dump know for sure what is buried at the site.

“The Corps has the necessary experts on staff and is also leveraging expertise from other federal agencies and the private sector,” said Dan Jones, Corps spokesman.

“We are prepared to excavate, characterize and properly dispose of the full spectrum of materials at the site,” he 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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