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Sen. Casey pushes for radioactive waste site funding

| Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

U.S. Sen. Robert Casey is pushing for more federal money to pay for the cleanup of radioactive waste sites like the one in Parks Township.

Casey wants the Obama administration to increase funding for nuclear dump cleanup in fiscal year 2017 by $150 million — 30 percent more than is budgeted this year. The federal fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. The 2017 fiscal year will start this October.

The Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) cleans up sites from the nation's early atomic weapons and energy programs from the 1940s through the 1960s. Funding for the The FUSRAP budget was relatively level between $130-$140 million a year since the U.S. Army Corps began administering the program in 1997. But funding has decreased below $110 million since fiscal year 2011, according to the Corps.

“Leaving these sites unaddressed or underfunded not only poses a health risk to communities near these sites, but also neglects the federal government's responsibility to address the lasting impacts of its past nuclear testing and research activities,” wrote Sen. Casey in a Jan. 11 letter to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

The nuclear dump in Parks Township, owned by BWX Technologies, is undergoing a 10-year, $350 million dollar cleanup of waste buried in the 1960s through the early 1970s from the former nuclear fuel plants in Apollo and Parks. The plants, founded by the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp., produced nuclear fuel for the government and the nuclear power industry.

The Corps, which will eventually go after the site owner to recoup cleanup expenses, is advertising for a new contractor and plans to re-start digging in Parks in 2018 to remove and ship out the waste.

“With several large FUSRAP sites entering the expensive remediation phase of the cleanup cycle…including Parks Township…the FUSRAP program will see record-high costs beginning in (fiscal year) 2017 and beyond,” Casey wrote.

So far, the budget for the Parks cleanup has not been an issue for the study and initial phase of the cleanup, according to earlier comments from the Pittsburgh District of the Army Corps. But that might not be the case for the future as costs have soared in recent years because of the discovery of unexpected amounts of complex nuclear materials.

A nonprofit group monitoring nuclear sites, the Savannah River Site Watch of Columbia, S.C., is concerned about the federal government's ability to fund these cleanups.

“Given growing pressure of the federal budget, it's hard to see where the necessary clean-up funding will come from,” said Tom Clements, director of the Savannah River Site Watch.

“Due to budget realities, it will take a hard push by Senator Casey and supportive colleagues to get an increase in the budget for the Parks Township site,” he said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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