Issues & Advocacy

Published on February 27th, 2018 | by GrowWNYAdmin


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 traveled 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.

March 1, 2018 session at the Burchfield and for the hearings on March 19, 20, and 21

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