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Source: The Buffalo News

Speakers urge full cleanup of West Valley waste site


Posted: June 1, 2009
Originally Published: May 31, 2009

Photo of Brian Smith and Rep. Brian Higgins.

Brian Smith, Western New York program director of Citizensí Campaign for the Environment, left, and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, speak at Erie Basin Marina Saturday. Bill Wippert/Buffalo News

With only eight days left for public comment and no final repository decided upon for the most dangerous radioactive wastes at the West Valley Demonstration Project, a coalition of environmental groups is trying to steer the decades-old debate over how to clean up the former nuclear fuels processing center.

State and federal environmental officials in November recommended a $1 billion, two-phase plan that would remove contaminated buildings and soil from the West Valley site over the next several years, while deferring for up to 30 years the larger question of whether to leave some radioactive waste forever buried.

But according to Brian Smith, western New York program director of Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment, a full cleanup of the waste site is the only “responsible option to protect our Great Lakes, health and economy.”

"Smith was one of five speakers at the Erie Basin Marina Saturday, urging people to make their opinions on the issue heard.

The speakers urged state residents to tell the Department of Energy and the State Energy Research and Development Authority to fully excavate and clean the 3,300-acre site 30 miles south of Buffalo.

“Anything less is nothing more than ignoring a serious threat and passing along problems to future generations,” Smith said. “The Great Lakes really mean everything to us. It would be catastrophic not to do anything.

“We can’t repeat that mistake, and now we have the opportunity to implement what needs to be done.”

About 35 people gathered at the marina to listen to the broad-based coalition of representatives from environmental, fishing, labor and religious groups call for the full cleanup.

Environmentalists and others say that removing every trace of high-and low-level waste is the only way — given erosion-prone geology — to ensure that it will not eventually seep into nearby creeks, make its way into lakes Erie and Ontario and contaminate drinking water supplies.

“Now is our chance to protect our drinking water from intensely radioactive nuclear power and weapons waste buried upstream decades ago but still able to cause large numbers of cancers now and in decades to come,” said Diane D’Arrigo, radioactive waste project director at Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

“The [DOE] and [state] won’t commit to dig it all up before it leaks further unless every one of us tells them they must,” she said.

The “phased decision-making” approach favored by the federal government and the state commits to eight to 12 years’ worth of work that the agencies agree should be done, and allows time to further study whether the site should be completely decontaminated or if buried waste should be enclosed and the site monitored for generations.

A report funded by the state legislature estimated the cost of complete excavation at $9.9 billion, and put the expense of maintaining the site over the next 1,000 years at $13 billion to $27 billion — more if there is waste leakage.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, supports a full cleanup, and he, along with Rep. Eric Massa, D-Corning, will ask Energy Secretary Steven Chu for a 90-day extension of the public comment period that began in November.

“The fight is just beginning. Sometimes the fight is over quick. Sometimes the fight takes a long time,” Higgins said, encouraging community leaders to stay heavily involved in the issue. “It’s going to be a fight. Let’s join together and speak with one voice. This is a grass-roots effort, and we have to try and force them to do what they ought to be doing.”

The public comment period on the issue ends June 8, and environmental officials and the congressmen encourage New York residents to file comments and complaints about the West Valley site online at westvalleyeis.com.