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Source: Buffalo Rising

Critical Decision Due for West Valley: Public Chance to Comment Ends September 8th

BY LARRY BROOKS

Posted: September 3, 2009
Originally Published: September 2, 2009

On Tuesday, September 1st, about 30 people collected on the sidewalk in front of the offices of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), 726 Exchange St. at Larkin. Representing a diverse cross-section of area organizations, the group stood shoulder to shoulder to demonstrate their solidarity, to exhort citizens to comment, and to urge policymakers to decide now to fully clean up the West Valley Nuclear Waste Site. Speakers included: Todd Gates, Seneca Nation of Indians Tribal Councilor; Bill Nowak, representing NYS Senator Antoine Thompson; Bob Ciesielski, Sierra Club; Sister Sharon Goodremote, Buffalo Diocese Care for Creation Committee; Brian Smith, Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Diane D'Arrigo, Nuclear Information & Resource Service; and Lenore Lee Lambert, League Of Women Voters Western New York, Citizens Task Force. The group brought mops, buckets, and brooms and called themselves the "Cleanup Crew."

As D'Arrigo puts it, "There are more nuclear waste dumps in Western New York than the rest of New York, and New York has more than the rest of the country."

New York State's largest nuclear waste site, West Valley, south of Buffalo, is in the Cattaraugus Creek watershed that drains into Lake Erie. Right now, a radioactive plume of groundwater is migrating from the site. The site is owned by NYSERDA and also maintained by them in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). DOE and NYSERDA have been studying long-term cleanup of the site, and have released their findings in Draft Environmental Impact Studies (DEIS).

Of four alternatives to the site's cleanup plan, these two partners favor the Phased Decision Making Alternative, which would demolish the process building in order to excavate the source of the plume, cleanup the lagoons, and install barriers for groundwater contamination. Essentially, this addresses only about 1 percent of the total radioactivity on site. Decisions on the balance--almost 99 percent of the radioactivity--would be addressed in Phase 2, spread out over 30 years. For a more comprehensive explanation of this site, its status, and the process for resolution, visit the Nuclear Information and Resource Service website.

This coalition of government leaders, environmental organizations, religious organizations, civic organizations, and the Seneca Nation of Indians are opposed to this approach for two major reasons. First, a 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, concludes that leaving buried waste on site is both high risk and very expensive, costing much more in future dollars than a full cleanup now, and does not consider the extra cost if a catastrophic release occurs.

Second, and more importantly, is the geographic instability of the site. Recent heavy rain and flooding around Gowanda caused a landslide near to the site, highlighting the site's instability. For these reasons, this coalition favors the Sitewide Removal Alternative, a full and immediate cleanup of the site. 34 members of the New York State Legislature, virtually all the local Western New York delegation of the Senate and Assembly, signed and sent, in June, a letter to the Secretary of DOE and the President of NYSERDA recommending sitewide removal. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer also supports this position.

September 8th is the deadline for public comments. The group is hosting a phonathon on Wednesday, September 2nd, urging people to call US DOE Secretary Steven Chu at 202.586.6210 and also NYSERDA President Frank Murray at 866.697.3732, ext. 3320, and urge them to decide now to fully clean up the West Valley Nuclear Waste Site.

Bob Ciesielski of Sierra Club, urges people to "call and tell them you're concerned about the water supply in the Great Lakes."

Brian Smith of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment urges you to tell them, "We deserve a full cleanup of West Valley now. We're calling on the citizens to demand that these agencies do this."