(Buffalo, NY) A broad-based coalition of national, state and local environmental, religious, conservation and labor organizations are calling on government to support the Sitewide Removal or waste excavation full cleanup approach for the West Valley nuclear waste site, located 30 miles south of Buffalo, NY. Groups are testifying at a series of public hearings this week being held by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the NYS Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) on March 30th in Albany,6:30 to 9:30 PM, Crowne Plaza Hotel, State St., Albany; March 31st, 6:00 to 9:00 PM PM, Seneca Nation, Wm. Seneca Bldg, 12837 Rt. 438, Irving; April 1st, 6:30 to 9:30 PM, Ashford Office Complex, 9030 Route 219, West Valley; and April 2, 6:30 to 9:30 PM, Erie County Community College/City Campus Auditorium, 121 Ellicott Street, Buffalo, NY.
The international Great Lakes United, national Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) and Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), the statewide Citizens’ Environmental Coalition (CEC), Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter and many other organizations in the West Valley Action Network (WVAN) are urging DOE and NYSERDA to immediately select the Sitewide Waste Removal cleanup approach to effectively protect public health and the Great Lakes region, and are opposing any proposals to leave buried waste on site as it is a serious environmental and public health risk and trying to contain waste for thousands of years is very expensive. The coalition strongly opposes the Phased Decision-Making approach, preferred by DOE and NYSERDA, since it cleans up only 1% of the site’s radioactivity and delays a cleanup decision on the remaining 99% radioactivity up to 30 years.
The WVAN issued a critique of the government’s Draft Envionmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Decommissioning Plan. WVAN groups stated that Sitewide Waste Removal is the only approach that provides a comprehensive cleanup of the entire site through excavation of radioactive and toxic waste, removing waste from a site with serious erosion problems, earthquake hazards, and a sole source aquifer. This cleanup method would prevent catastrophic releases of nuclear waste which could pollute community drinking water supplies and Lakes Erie and Ontario, harm public health, and cost billions of dollars. The Sitewide Removal or full cleanup option is also the most cost-effective approach over the long term according to a recent study. An independent, state-funded study, The Real Costs of Cleaning Up Nuclear Waste: A Full Cost Accounting of Cleanup Options for the West Valley Nuclear Waste Site, revealed leaving buried waste at the site is both high risk and expensive while a waste excavation cleanup presents the least risk and the lowest cost. Over 1,000 years, waste excavation costs $9.7 to $9.9 billion while leaving dangerous buried radioactive waste onsite costs $13 billion to $27 billion if a catastrophic release occurred.
Leaving buried waste on site is expensive and a serious environmental and public health risk, the coalition charges, pointing to the independent study. Erosion is a powerful and fast moving force at the West Valley site as it sits on a geologically young landscape which is undergoing a relatively rapid rate of erosion. Michael P. Wilson, Ph.D., SUNY Fredonia Professor of Geosciences found in the FCA study that “Nuclear wastes, radioactive for tens of thousands of years, will be consumed by erosion and discharged downstream to Lakes Erie and Ontario in less than 3,000 years and may be dangerously exposed in less than 200 or 300 years.” Scientists also found the site poses a significant danger to people living along the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario. They estimated if just 1% of radioactivity leaked from the site, Lake Erie water users would be exposed to substantial radiation, causing hundreds of cancer deaths, and Buffalo and Erie County water replacement would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
NYSERDA even raised serious problems with key aspects of the DEIS, noted the groups. Essentially NYSERDA stated that the DOE’s assessments are seriously flawed and scientifically indefensible for long term erosion, engineering controls and health impacts. As a result NYSERDA stated that the soil erosion analysis over the long term cannot be relied on in predicting public radiation doses. NYSERDA even raised serious problems with key aspects of the DEIS, noted the groups. Essentially NYSERDA stated that the DOE’s assessments are seriously flawed and scientifically indefensible for long term erosion, engineering controls and health impacts. As a result, NYSERDA stated that the soil erosion analysis over the long term cannot be relied on in predicting public radiation doses. (DEIS Vol. 1 Forward.)
The coalition is strongly opposed to the DOE and NYSERDA’s preferred alternative, called Phased Decision Making. Under this Alternative, Phase 1 would include moving vitrified high-level waste to a new storage facility. The Phase 1 new cleanup work includes demolishing the process building in order to excavate the strontium plume source area, cleaning up the lagoons and installing barriers for groundwater contamination. All of this new cleanup work addresses only 1.2% of the total radioactivity on the site. Decisions on a majority of the waste, or 99% of the radioactivity, would be addressed in Phase 2 including high-level waste tanks, and both radioactive waste burial areas. The WVAN groups noted that the potential environmental and health impacts of leaving 99% of the radioactivity on site for another 30 years was not studied. For instance, the high-level waste tanks, with 320,000 curies of radioactivity, are nearing the end of their design life (50 years) and any leaks could seriously pollute the sole source aquifer.
The WVAN groups are obtaining signatures on a large poster letter to Governor David Paterson which will be hand-delivered to the State Capitol. The contents are as follows. “Dear Governor Paterson, Please protect New York’s precious Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario and support the Sitewide Removal clean up plan for the West Valley nuclear waste site, with full waste excavation. We urge you to reverse NYSERDA’s misquided support of the “Phased Decision Making” approach. It cleans up only 1% of the site’s radioactivity in Phase 1 and then delays the cleanup decision up to 30 years for the site’s remaining 99% radioactivity. New York should support digging up the waste to protect the sole source aquifer that lies below corroding high level radioactive waste tanks and buried long-lasting waste. We urge you to support Sitewide Removal as it is the only option that effectively protects public health and New York’s Great Lakes region.”
Diane D’Arrigo, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said “New Yorkers have only a few months to give their input on the final disposition of the West Valley nuclear waste site. Based on the site geology and radioactive hazards, the decision to dig it up must be made now before the radioactivity oozes and leaks closer to our drinking water and contaminates more soil, fish, game, crops, recreational areas and wildlife. The economics are consistent with the moral arguments to dig it up. If we leave long-lasting radioactive waste in eroding ground, knowing it will escape into waterways and the environment, we are abandoning our responsibility to future generations.”
Anne Rabe, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, said “Leaving wastes buried at West Valley is dangerous for future generations and extremely costly. The agencies should reverse their misguided decision to delay the decision to clean up 99% of the site’s radioactivity for up to three decades. Waste excavation is the only way to remediate the site and protect our health and the Great Lakes environment.”
Barbara Warren, Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, said “Lately we have heard a lot about the banks and their ‘toxic assets’, however the West Valley Nuclear Site is the real deal in Toxic Assets, with material that will be dangerous for thousands of years. We must hold Federal and State agencies, that are responsible for this mess, accountable to clean it up and prevent future harm for the irreplaceable Great Lakes and local residents.”