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NUMEC nuclear waste dump in Parks Township will be excavated

| Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015, 2:34 p.m.

After finding greater than expected amounts of Special Nuclear Material — potentially suitable for a nuclear explosive — the Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday announced its final decision to stay the course for a $350 million project and remove 36,000 tons of radioactive waste from a nuclear dump in Parks Township.

The Corps shut down the cleanup of the 44-acre site along Route 66 at Kiskimere Drive in 2011 after unearthing more Special Nuclear Material than its contractor or cleanup plans were prepared to handle, driving up costs and triggering a yearlong review of the cleanup plan.

The agency's final decision, resulting in an amendment to its cleanup plan, clears an important regulatory hurdle.

“The decision allows us to move forward with a remedy that is protective of human health and the environment, and is economically justified,” according to Mike Helbling, Army Corps of Engineers project manager in Pittsburgh.

Not everyone agrees with the plan.

Site owner, BWX Technology (formerly known as Babcock & Wilcox) and former owner Atlantic Richfield Co., both of which are on the hook to pay for the cleanup, argued this year that the Corps didn't properly consider other alternatives, such as keeping the nuclear waste on site.

But, in the end, the Corps defended its analysis and decision to go with the most expensive alternative — digging it up and shipping it out of state.

Jud Simmons, spokesman for BWX, said the company would not comment on the Corps' decision.

“The most important thing is to get the job done safely for the people in the community and for the government to recover the money for the project,” Helbling said. “You and I should not be paying for it.”

Under the federal cleanup process used by the corps, the polluter pays for the cleanup.

Working with the Corps on the cleanup are the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and other government agencies.

Environmental activist Patty Ameno of Hyde Park said the corps decision was a Christmas gift and applauded the agency for its “stick-to-itiveness.”

Ameno has spent 27 years fighting for the removal of the radioactive dump from Armstrong County after the site owners and the NRC initially proposed to keep the contaminants on site. Some of the radioactive contaminants, such as uranium-235, can remain radioactive for more than 700 million years.

Ameno, who would be 77 years old when the project finishes, wants the site productive again, perhaps as a museum or government office offering “open dialogues” with communities.

“We did a really good job here in getting this cleanup to this point with the understanding of the seriousness of the site and that the cost factor wouldn't prevent the cleanup.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who has also been fighting for the cleanup said Tuesday: “I'm pleased that this process is moving forward. While this is a needed step, I will continue to monitor the situation closely and press all relevant federal agencies to intensify their efforts to clean up the site.”

Bud Shannon, chairman of the Parks Township Supervisors, said, “The corps did an outstanding job with keeping with the original plan. They are trying to do the will of people. What else can you ask for?”

The corps plans to soon advertise for a contractor to perform the work and hopes to name a new contractor in 2017, which will develop new plans and start digging again in 2018. The project is expected to finish between 2026 and 2028.

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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