Army Corps to resume nuclear cleanup

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will remain in charge of cleaning up a nuclear waste site in Parks, Armstrong County, that is home to "complex" materials that forced the agency to halt operations to review whether it was best suited to continue the job.

The Pittsburgh district of the Corps wouldn't say when work will resume on the largely unfinished 44-acre site near Apollo, which houses nuclear waste left behind from operations conducted by the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC) and Atlantic Richfield Co. The Babcock and Wilcox Co. most recently owned the land before closing the plant in 1983.

The Shallow Land Disposal Area, as it is called by the Corps, is left over from government and commercial work done by the firms at the Parks field and at an additional nuclear site that operated in the area. The Army Corps said in a press release that it will be hiring a new contractor to resume the cleanup.

Officials stopped the cleanup project in May after crews discovered greater quantities of what they called "complex" materials like uranium and plutonium at the site. The findings caused the cost of the project to balloon from an estimated $170 million to as much as $500 million.

Armed guards began patrolling the fenced-in land, and officials began reviewing whether the Army Corps was the best agency to continue the job.

About 10 percent of the cleanup had been completed when operations stopped. Incomplete records have made it difficult for officials to know exactly what elements -- and just how much -- is buried there.

The Army Corps has been in charge of cleaning up similar sites across the country thanks to 2002 legislation entered by the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown. The old NUMEC site is the only such operation in the Corps' Pittsburgh district.

Community members filing public comments have been almost unanimous in their support for the agency and its performance. Many thought responsibility for the project might go to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

businessnews - environment

Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.


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