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NUMEC cleanup balloons to $170M

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The cost to remove radioactive dirt and debris from the nuclear waste dump along Route 66 in Parks has skyrocketed from $76 million to $170 million.

The increase — more than 120 percent — adds to a growing mountain of costs related to the production of nuclear fuel at the former Nuclear Material and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC) in Apollo and Parks from 1957 to the mid-1980s.

Lawsuits for personal injury and contamination, the razing and cleanup of two nuclear fuel plants and government payments to contaminated workers have topped $267 million over the last two decades.

The Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh, the federal agency charged by Congress with excavating and removing the radiological materials, revised its cost estimates as officials hammer out the details in order to start digging next year.

"After better studying the site, evaluating other sites and federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission procedures and working with the contractor, the excavation of the materials safely is going to take longer than original estimates and the cost will go up," said Bill Lenart, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh.

Instead of a three-year excavation project finishing in 2013, the cleanup could take as long as eight years, Lenart said.

Part of the revised estimate includes the potential for removing and shipping double the original estimate of 50,000 tons of contaminated dirt and debris.

Paying for the cleanup is not an issue now, according to Lenart, because it's a priority project. The money comes from a corps budget for Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program, which investigates and cleans up some of the country's sites used for atomic energy and weapons development.

The late Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, entered legislation passed by Congress mandating the cleanup by the corps in the 2002 Defense Department appropriations budget.

Rep. Mark Critz, who is filling the remainder of Murtha's term, said, "I look forward to working with the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that the Parks Township (Shallow Land Disposal Area) continues to receive federal funding, and that the cleanup is conducted in a safe and secure manner."

Digging up the contaminated pits slowly, foot-by-foot, testing and sorting the sensitive nuclear and chemical contaminants, plus shutting down the operation each winter, are driving up the cleanup cost, according to the agency.

For Parks Supervisors Chairman Bud Shannon, the slow and methodical cleanup is welcome.

"I think it's a good thing, and it tells me that this thing will be done for the safety of the citizens and the workers," he said.

Leechburg environmentalist Patty Ameno believes a thorough cleanup should cost even more and should encompass potential contamination outside the boundaries of the dump.

"It is still not enough," Ameno said. "For the people of this area, for everything we've been plagued with, what dollar amount can be put on their health and safety• I don't think people here care how many millions just so it's cleaned up safely and comprehensively."

The investigation and cleanup of other potential contaminated sites near the dump would require an act of Congress, Lenart said.

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