West Valley Nuclear Waste Facility Clean-Up
Public support for Full Cleanup is Essential to protect Public Health and
the Great Lakes for Future Generations
We support the full cleanup of one of Western New York’s most dangerous nuclear pollution problems. West Valley Nuclear Service Center is located 30 miles south of Buffalo, and contains hazardous waste material which poses a threat to water resources in Western New York and the Great Lakes watershed.
Tons of radioactive waste from nuclear reprocessing activities are buried on site, and there is great concern over potential leakage into groundwater, and nearby streams which drain into Lake Erie. Government reports express concern over major erosion on the banks of nearby streams, and exposure to very high radiation to unsuspecting future generations.
West Valley Nuclear Waste Facility UPDATE 3.26.18 By Lynda Schneekloth
This past week there were three West Valley Nuclear Waste ‘scoping hearings’ to get public input on what should be included in the final Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement – in Buffalo, West Valley and Irving. The hearings, held by the Department of Energy and NYSERDA, were attended by more than 100 people and about 40 people made statements of their concerns about West Valley. Every speaker argued for full clean-up of the site: Dig it Up!!
Many asked for an extension of the time for comments beyond the April 23 deadline, and most spoke to fears of nuclear waste entering our waterways because of the severe weather associated with climate change. It’s been almost 60 years since this site was selected to process and store nuclear waste and we are even more certain that the waste has not, and cannot, be securely contained at West Valley. Every speaker said, DIG IT UP! Store in safely above ground, monitor it, and eventually moved to a much safer location.
West Valley and the entire nuclear enterprise that we started in the late 1930s is mind boggling. Below is a short piece I wrote to try to understand how to even think about it.
WHO’S CLEANING UP THE MESS? By Lynda Schneekloth
When my kids were little, we used to have ‘cleaning day’ on Saturdays when my husband and I would each take a young one on our team and do certain tasks. We hoped to communicate through our shared work that all of us were responsible for taking care of our home – cleaning and putting things ‘away.’ As the kids grew, the lessons got more complex: not only do you clean up your mess, you are often responsible for cleaning up after others. I don’t think those lessons stuck because not many years later, I had a house of teenagers who left dirty dishes in the sink, clothes on the floor, and things anywhere. I put up a sign in the kitchen, “Your Mother Doesn’t Work Here Anymore!” I initiated a Dish Amnesty Day where you could bring, wash and put away those yucky plates and glasses from your room without comment from me. We also were regular users of secondhand stores, bringing a box of things to pass on and filling a bag with new toys and books to bring home. This isn’t really ‘away’, but recycling, a creative way to constantly transform the things in our lives. This, I explained to children, who rolled their eyes, is the way nature does it. There is no ‘away’ because all messes in the natural world are absorbed and transformed. Fallen trees, landslides, floods and even death have a place and a function on this earth — breaking down, composting, regenerating. I wish we humans understood that. We act as if there is a place, ‘away,’ especially in public housework. For example, taking the trash out does keep the neighborhood clean, but really, it is not recycling and it is not away. Our waste goes to a place that probably had been a farm or woodland, but is now filled with discarded and often toxic things. Is this cleaning up our messes? In the last two centuries, we have created such extraordinary and lethal messes that we don’t even know how to clean them up. Those of us who live in the Buffalo Niagara Region learned about this the hard way with Love Canal. Hooker Chemical and the U.S. Army disposed of lethal WWII waste in a canal next to the Niagara River and tons of toxic and hazardous brew are still right there, contained in a better designed and monitored canal that is already obsolete. Contained is not ‘away’ but a holding strategy until . . . until what? Today my children are grown and their children will have to contend with the ultimate messes that have been made: carbon in the ocean and atmosphere that has causes climate change, and the nuclear waste we have left across the globe. These two messes come to ground just 30 miles south of Buffalo at the West Valley Nuclear Waste Facility where climate destabilization and severe storms greatly increase the risk of releasing nuclear waste into our waters. There is no way to clean up nuclear waste, no ‘away’ to send it to. Yet we know that it will be hazardous to human and environmental health for thousands of years so it must be addressed. What we can do is to dig it up so we know where it is, contain it securely, ensure that it is retrievable, and communicate across generations that this material is lethal. We of all people, who know about the dangers of toxic waste, must insist that the risk to our children be minimized by a full cleanup and secure containment of this nuclear waste. Please let your elected officials, DOE and NYSERDA know you are a protector of our waters and land and children. Dig it up!
A similar version was published in Buffalo Rising on March 14, 2018.
DIG IT UP!!!
We Demand Full Clean-up of the West Valley Nuclear Waste Facility. Western New Yorkers are demanding a full clean up of the West Valley Nuclear Waste Facility to remove all nuclear waste from the 3,338 acre site that is located 30 miles south of Buffalo. All nuclear waste must be exhumed, securely contained, monitored and be fully retrievable for ultimate removal from this site.
This site has a long and complicated history of ownership and management, but the fact is, that since 1966, the highly toxic radioactive waste remains on an erodible and unstable site causing a catastrophic risk to downstream communities like the Seneca Nation, Lake Erie/ Niagara River communities like Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Lewiston. The Department of Energy and NYSERDA are proposing to conduct the final Supplemental EIS to forge a final determination of what to do with this nuclear material. The community must have a strong say in what happens as it is our waters that are at risk of radioactive contamination. These Scoping Hearings will be on March 19-21, 2018. We are beginning a series of short pieces on the West Valley Nuclear Waste Facility and what we can do to influence the decision. We begin with an Another Voice editorial by Bill Townsend that appeared in the Buffalo News on January 8, 2018. Submitted by Lynda Schneekloth, Board Member
WEST VALLEY CLEANUP PROCEEDING TOO SLOWLY Another Voice editorial by Bill Townsend that appeared in the Buffalo News on January 8, 2018
In 1959 I was taking my intro engineering geology course at the University of Michigan geology camp in the Tetons when they were selecting a site near Buffalo for a nuclear reprocessing project. Every Sunday my roommate Red Berenson (of hockey fame) and I hiked in the glacier-scoured Tetons. I could have told you then that the geological instability the West Valley site made it unsuitable for long term disposal of nuclear materials. In 1963, when the plant for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel was under construction, I finished my master’s degree and started a Cold War job, designing Minuteman missile equipment to withstand a first strike from nuclear bombs. By 1972, when I finished my Ph. D., they were closing down the failed West Valley project. Half a century later, we are beginning the process of deciding what to do with the mess of nuclear waste in the ground at West Valley. The Department of Energy is responsible for most of this cleanup at West Valley, as it is around the country. It does this at a turtle’s pace, hampered by inadequate budgets. Delays in remediation drastically increase costs, as rusting tanks and barrels leak into the soil. The General Accounting Office in February 2017 named the US Government’s environmental liabilities as one of the Government’s highest risk areas. Most of this risk falls within the Department of Energy. Some of the radioactive sites, such as Hanford in Washington State, are massive projects dating back to the World War II Manhattan project, others are relatively small, such as West Valley. The West Valley Demonstration Project has already proved its value as a pilot project for the vitrification of high-level nuclear waste, a process now used on a large scale at Hanford. Our water is under threat from radioactive runoff moving toward streams that flow into Cattaraugus Creek, then Lake Erie, the source of our drinking water. The potential is there for large storms to cause a landslide, releasing nuclear waste that could contaminate our water. Perhaps West Valley might serve as a pilot project to research techniques for decontaminating soil and water. Nuclear waste cleanup is in fact a job-creating infrastructure project, but it should not require special funding. All it requires is shifting a substantial chunk of the money in the proposed federal budget designated for “modernizing” the U.S. weapons arsenal to the best kind of modernization, a prompt, full cleanup of abandoned DOE facilities. This would protect the health of citizens, workers, the natural environment, and Great Lakes water. Not as glamorous as more bombs under the control of that big “Nuclear Button” on the President’s desk but much more practical for keeping us all safe. William H. Townsend, Ph. D. Retired Civil Engineer and real estate owner/manager Snyder NY
SO WHAT IS WEST VALLEY NUCLEAR WASTE FACILITY???
Adapted from resolution written by Pat Townsend, and adopted by steering committee of Interfaith Climate Justice Community, February 21, 2018
In the 1960s Western New York became the home of the only commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing effort in the United States. While intended by the federal and state governments to be one solution to the problem of the wastes building up at nuclear plants, it wound up accepting more military than commercial waste.
Built before the serious business of environmental regulation of the 1970s, the West Valley plant was constructed on eroding glacial till entirely unsuited to the purpose. The abandonment of the project after only 6 years of operation left behind vast quantities of toxic and radioactive waste. Accidental releases of radioactive material are known to have travelled through the watershed, reaching as far as the sediments of Lake Ontario, by way of the creek flowing through Cattaraugus Seneca lands and the Lake Erie and Niagara River sources of our metropolitan water supply. At West Valley, a plume of strontium continues to leak into groundwater.
The West Valley site has been undergoing a long, slow process of cleanup by the US Department of Energy and NYSERDA as ordered by Congress in the West Valley Demonstration Project Act of 1982. The term “Demonstration Project” referred to the pilot project of combining the liquid wastes from underground tanks with glass to form huge “logs” stabilized so that they could be safely shipped to an underground storage site in the West. That site was not developed; therefore, the glass logs remain on site, above ground and safe for the time being.
After that step was complete, planning began for the remaining dangers, mostly consisting of contaminated buildings and leaking buried wastes. This draft plan was released, opened to public comment, and adopted in the period 2009-2010 as the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). However, “Final” was not quite final, as the alternative chosen was a process of phased implementation that delayed major decisions for 10 years.
The Public actively participated in the FEIS of 2010 and unanimously demanded “FULL CLEANUP” of the site. Instead, DOE and NYSERDA decided on a two phase process to do studies in Phase 1 and have a “Supplemental EIS” for Phase 2. This is beginning right now.
We have not changed our minds. We still demand FULL CLEANUP of the site. The prospect of climate disruption and severe weather events makes the West Valley cleanup a matter of renewed urgency, and interim actions may need to be taken to reduce the risk of accidental release of radioactive materials due to erosion.