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Shallow Land Disposal Area (BWX Technologies, Inc.)

1.0 Site Identification

Type of Site: Complex Decommissioning Site
Location: Vandergrift, PA
License No.: SNM-2001
Docket No.: 07003085
License Status: Possession Only License
Project Manager: Jack Hayes

2.0 Site Status Summary

The Shallow Land Disposal Area (SLDA) site is located in Parks Township, Pennsylvania. It is an 18-ha [44-ac] site in a largely undeveloped area approximately 5 km [3 mi] southeast of Leechburg and 37 km [23 mi] east-northeast of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. From 1961–1970, the site was used for disposal of wastes from a nuclear fuel fabrication facility in nearby Apollo, Pennsylvania. Both radioactive and non-radioactive wastes were placed in trenches. The site was operated by Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), which also operated the Apollo Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Facility that converted enriched uranium to naval reactor fuel. In 1967, Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) purchased all NUMEC stock and in 1971 sold it to Babcock and Wilcox (B&W), which later became BWX Technologies (BWXT). The current owner of the site is BWXT.

The SLDA was created for disposal of radioactive wastes from the nearby Apollo Nuclear Fabrication Facility, which was under the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) license SNM-145. Radioactive waste was disposed in trenches at the SLDA site in accordance with AEC regulations at the time. AEC is the predecessor of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The SLDA site is now under NRC license SNM-2001, which BWXT currently holds. There are 10 trenches at the SLDA with radioactive and non-radioactive wastes occupying approximately 0.5 ha [1.2 ac]. Radioactive material in the trenches consists of natural uranium; enriched and depleted uranium; and smaller quantities of thorium, americium, and plutonium.

In 2002, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was directed to clean up the radioactive waste at the SLDA under the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP), which AEC established in 1974 to clean up residual radioactivity from the early years of the nation’s atomic energy program. USACE’s cleanup of the SLDA will follow the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the July 5, 2001, Memorandum of Understanding between NRC and USACE for coordination of cleanup and decommissioning of FUSRAP sites with NRC-licensed facilities. While USACE is actively proceeding with SLDA cleanup, the NRC license that BWXT holds was placed in abeyance in August 2011. The NRC license will be reinstated after USACE cleans up the SLDA site to current requirements (NRC radiological criteria for unrestricted use).

3.0 Major Technical or Regulatory Issues

In September 2007, USACE issued Final Record of Decision for the site, selecting NRC Unrestricted Use standard in 10 CFR 20.1402 as the cleanup standard. In January 2008, NRC notified State of Pennsylvania and the licensee that due to quantities of special nuclear materials at SLDA exceeding the NRC Unity Rule (Ref. 10 CFR 150.11), and consistent with the NRC decommissioning policy, the site will not be transferred to Pennsylvania. In February 2008, USACE hosted an interagency planning session to discuss site remediation plans. Staff shared certain concern regarding USACE's remedial action contractor's conceptual design. In March 2008, the State of Pennsylvania entered into an Agreement State status with the NRC. In April 2008, Staff responded to the licensee's request to continue with its current license commitments until license is terminated. In August 2008, staff observed a USACE interagency planning session. During the session USACE clarified that despite its contractor earlier plans, USACE has determined that the remediation work would be conducted inside the existing licensed areas.

In May 2009, USACE submitted Work Plans outlining remediation activities for the SLDA site. In response to the NRC's request for additional information, these Work Plans were revised and resubmitted in September 2009. The NRC is currently evaluating these revised Work Plans to determine if they meet regulatory requirements due to the presence of radiologic material within the ten (10) burial trenches.

On August 5, 2011, the NRC executed a Confirmatory Order Modifying BWXT's License No. SNM-2001. After the NRC placed BWX Technologies Inc. license in abeyance for the Shallow Land Disposal Area (SLDA) site, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) assumed physical possession of the site on August 22, 2011, and began cleanup activities. The USACE is congressionally mandated to clean-up the SLDA site under the Formerly Utilized Sites Remediation Action Program (FUSRAP).

On September 30, 2011, USACE ceased excavation activities because their contractor deviated from accepted field procedures.  The exhumed material was complex and beyond the scope of USACE’s established procedures.  In response, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff provided technical guidance and conducted several site visits. In early-2012, the SLDA site came under policy review due to growing concerns about the cost for management and disposal of exhumed material. In ensuing months, the SLDA site garnered public attention. The NRC, in a supportive role, attended public meetings in March and June 2012 which were coordinated by USACE.  By mid-August 2012, all exhumed material was safely shipped off-site.

4.0 Estimated Date For Closure

2020

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, February 19, 2014