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OLEAN – Decommissioning work continues at the West Valley Demonstration project, despite the shutdown of the federal government.

Dan Coyne, president of CHBWV, the decommissioning team on the job since 2011, said work is on track but the federal shutdown and its impact on Department of Energy budgets could change things.

Coyne told the Cattaraugus County Board of Health Wednesday that the shutdown could affect one big component of the project: the removal from the site of the melter and related buildings used to encapsulate spent nuclear fuel rods.

The melter eventually would be removed to another site by rail. Permission for that move could be delayed by the shutdown, Coyne said,

Crews encountered a minor problem recently, he added. While removing soil for a mammoth storage pad being constructed, a small amount of contaminated asphalt was discovered. “The levels were minuscule,” Coyne said, “but we took the time to shut everything down, run tests and make sure it was gone. It appears it was nothing more than a small spill on the asphalt.”

The pad, which will be poured in the coming weeks, is where glass-encased rods will be stored once removed from other buildings on the site. The pad will accommodate 56 vertical storage casks, until they can be removed permanently to an eventual federal repository for nuclear waste.

Coyne said crews have removed 30,000 square feet of buildings and more than 20,000 truckloads of waste from previous contractors, as well as another 100,000 cubic feet of waste generated since August 2011.

The current phase is scheduled to be completed in 2018. The final phase – determining the future of the site in northern Cattaraugus County – is “years and years away,” according to Coyne.