The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced its decision for only partial cleanup of the West Valley nuclear waste site 30 miles south of Buffalo and upstream of WNY’s main water supply. Members of the West Valley Action Network which includes local, state, national and international environmental, religious, labor, recreational, sports and government entities advocating full clean up of the intensely radioactive site, expressed extreme disappointment, but not surprise. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s decision on the site is expected later this month.
Major concerns include Department of Energy’s giving only lip-service to the clear call by all sectors of the public for full cleanup decision now, ignoring the state-funded, ground-breaking independent study on long-term health and economic effects on the region of leaving nuclear waste buried at West Valley, the lack of commitment to full legal Environmental Impact Statement process for Phase 2 (which involves the majority of the radioactivity at the site), and the appearance of a setup to allow the rest of the deadly waste to be left in the highly erosion-prone ground permanently.
DOE chose to split the cleanup into phases: the first to cleanup one major building and part of a spreading radioactive leak already in groundwater and making its way to creeks that flow to Lake Erie. Meanwhile, DOE will take up to a decade to decide whether to carry out a second phase, which could be to leave the rest of the waste, which comprises the majority of the radioactivity, buried there. The high level radioactive waste tanks with intensely radioactive sludge from reprocessing, radioactive burial grounds with long-lasting waste from 1960s and 70s nuclear power and weapons reactors, including damaged irradiated fuel will be left to potentially leak more.
DOE will begin to clean up part but not all of a spreading plume of dangerous radioactivity that was first detected in the early 1990s which they attribute to a 1968 spill in the reprocessing building. That huge building is slated to be dismantled in phase 1, but some of the underground pipes could be left in the ground. Studies will be carried out to “inform” the decision on whether to remove all waste from the rest of the site or to leave the buried waste and merely cover it over.
Despite requests from the West Valley Action Network that DOE study HOW to cleanup the rest of the site, DOE is choosing to continue analyzing WHETHER to clean it up. DOE gives inadequate commitment to public that would carry legal weight.
“The public voice and science are being ignored. Effectively, all of the public comments, the resolutions in Buffalo, the Seneca Nation, counties and towns throughout WNY and the bipartisan letters from of our state and federal legislators to DOE and NYSERDA call for a commitment now to full site-wide cleanup,” reported Bob Ciesielski, Sierra Club Niagara Group Chair. According to the DOE Final Environmental Impact Statement, there is virtually unanimous support from individuals, groups, local governments and US and NYS legislators for the site-wide full cleanup decision now.
“Phase I will only address 1% of buried radioactive waste. The public must have a say in the final cleanup; we cannot afford to allow federal and state government agencies to merely walk away from the remaining 99% of buried radioactivity in the high level underground tanks and the two radioactive burial areas,” said Barbara Warren, Executive Director, Citizens’ Environmental Coalition.
“Ten years is too long. The waste is already leaking. West Valley drains into the creek that runs through the Seneca Nation of Indians reservation, where my kids swim and play and people fish. We have been and will be the first impacted,” said Maria Maybee, a resident of the Cattaraugus Reservation. “The creek then flows into Lake Erie upstream of the Buffalo and Erie County water intakes.”
“The public should be outraged.” asserted Diane D’Arrigo, Radioactive Waste Project Director at Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “While DOE spends the next 10 years deciding what to do with 40 year old nuclear power and reprocessing waste at West Valley, Congress is voting to give tens of billions of our tax dollars, as loan guarantees, for new nuclear power — to make more of the same waste. DOE cannot commit to full cleanup but promotes new reprocessing, nuclear power and waste production.”
The 2008 West Valley Full Cost Accounting Study by independent scientists analyzed the geology, economics and radiological consequences of full clean up versus leaving buried waste at the erosion-prone site. The study assessed long range costs whereas DOE discounted and ignored future economic and environmental costs and risks. The report concluded that it is less expensive in the long run and more protective of health to dig up the West Valley waste before it leaks into the Cattaraugus Creek and Lake Erie.
“DOE’s ignoring the erosion at West Valley is eroding public confidence,” said Anne Rabe from Center for Health, Environment and Justice. “It’s disappointing that DOE failed to take advantage of the groundbreaking scientific research concluding full cleanup will save money, lives and resources. Buried waste could leak out causing hundreds of cancers and costing 10’s of billions of dollars.” she concluded.
Brian Smith from Citizens Campaign for the Environment said “DOE delaying the decision on whether to cleanup the majority of the West Valley nuclear waste threatens the Great Lakes. As we work to improve water quality, encourage conservation and implement responsible ecosystem-based management for NY’s Great Lakes, we need to prevent the immense, irreversible threat posed by West Valley nuclear waste.”
Sister Sharon Goodremote FSSJ, Chair of the Catholic Charities Care for Creation Committee of Buffalo said, “Catholic Charities has strongly supported the full cleanup–not only the social justice aspects–but also because as stewards of creation. This is definitely a moral issue, how we treat the gifts of creation. We, as humans are responsible [and] leaving nuclear waste at West Valley will not create a healthy environment.”