The nation’s only commercial spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant operated at the West Valley site from 1966 to 1972. Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. operated the reprocessing facility that was constructed on New York State land. During that time, 640 metric tons of fuel from both federal government defense reactors and commercial power reactors were reprocessed at West Valley. In addition to spent fuel reprocessing, NFS established two radioactive waste disposal areas at the Center - a commercial radioactive waste disposal facility, and a separate facility that was used for the disposal of high-activity reprocessing waste with radiation levels that were too high to be buried in the commercial disposal facility.
After operating the fuel reprocessing facility for six years, NFS halted operations to make modifications to increase the plant's reprocessing capacity, reduce worker doses, and reduce radioactive effluents. During this period, new regulatory requirements were issued related to earthquake and tornado protection, and waste management requirements. NFS concluded that it would not be economically viable to continue the reprocessing operation at West Valley. In 1976, NFS informed New York State that it was withdrawing from the reprocessing business and intended to turn the West Valley facility and the two disposal areas over to New York State.
At that time, the reprocessing facility contained 750 spent fuel assemblies that had not been reprocessed, 600,000 gallons of liquid high-level radioactive waste stored in two steel tanks, the highly contaminated Main Plant Process Building, and almost three million cubic feet of radioactive waste buried in the two disposal areas.
In 1980, the West Valley Demonstration Project Act was passed by Congress, beginning a federal/state cleanup project that is still continuing today.