DOE's plan for West Valley is big government at its worst. Having created a catastrophic mess, the Department of Energy is now getting ready to leave it to us and our children.
DOE has decided to split into two parts the required Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Completion of the West Valley Demonstration Project and Closure or Long-Term Management of Facilities at the West Valley site. One part would address wastes DOE is willing to handle now, and another part would address wastes DOE is unwilling to handle, wants to leave in place in a highly erosive, wet environment, and probably will abandon. This would also put off the EIS for closure until some future date.
DOE's and NYSERDA's latest responses to public comments is as close as the agencies have come to acknowledging the need to clean up the site before it erodes into Cattaraugus Creek.
The Coalition on West Valley Nuclear Wastes was turned away by a federal appeals court on August 31, 2009 when the court ruled that splitting the EIS into two parts, thus creating an indefinite delay in final closure of the site, did not violate a 1987 agreement between DOE and the Coalition to complete the closure EIS without undue delay.
Here's why we think DOE's plan is not only a bad idea:
DOE should commit to a closure plan that protects health and the environment now, not later.
In 1986 without an environmental impact statement the DOE adopted a policy for West Valley that would have permitted the agency to landfill on-site nuclear wastes with radioactivity greater than 10 nano curies/gram. Such activity is prohibited under the West Valley Demonstration Act passed by Congress. It is opposed by EPA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
In 1987 the Coalition on West Valley Nuclear Wastes sued the DOE and won a settlement under which DOE agreed to hold project wastes in above ground storage instead of a "tumulus" (landfill), agreed to make the decision about ultimate disposal of these waste depend on a future EIS covering closure of West Valley, agreed to disclose its future plans to a citizens task force, and agreed to defer to NRC as to the level of radioactivity of wastes requiring disposal under the Act.
Now DOE is ignoring the NRC and what has become a weighty volume of public comments from the EPA, New York State, the Seneca Nation of Indians, the Coalition, CCCC and other citizens. The purpose of the EIS provision in the 1987 settlement was to ensure that wastes will not be left behind in the ground for New York State to manage after DOE walks away. But now, by splitting the EIS into two parts--one for short term waste manage, and another put off to an uncertain future, to close the site and finally clean it up--DOE is ducking its responsibility to remove the high-level wastes.
The longer DOE puts off final clean-up the costlier clean-up will be, because radioactive contamination will spread farther.
Where are the radiactive wastes at West Valley?
The wastes at West Valley are located over an aquifer the EPA determined in 1987 "is the sole or principal source of drinking water for the entire townships of Freedom and Yorkshire; and parts of Arcade, Sardinia, Concord, Ashford, Centerville, Rushford, Farmersville, Machias, Ellicottville, East Otto, Otto, Persia, Collins, Java, Wethersfield and Eagle Townships, and [. . .] this aquifer, if contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health." 52 Fed. Reg. 36100 (Sept. 25, 1987) (Cattaraugus Creek Sole Source Aquifer Final Determination).
In 2007 NRC proposed decommissioning the West Valley site, which would impose annual exposure limits on any closure plan. However, DOE's proposal ignores this NRC requirement. EPA's comments on the NRC decommissioning plan expressed concern that some parts of the West Valley would be left out of NRC's proposed protections, in violation of a rule against splitting consideration of interrelated parts of a single contaminated site.
The public should be concerned about whether their health will get progressively worse without a plan for closing the site once and for all.
Buffalo News, 7/26/2003:
WASHINGTON - Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday the Senate had adopted an amendment requiring the Department of Energy to prepare a plan to transfer all radioactive materials from the West Valley Demonstration Project and submit the plan to Congress within a year of enactment.
Schumer said he submitted the measure because the department failed to notify the community when it shipped two rail cars laden with high-level radioactive waste earlier this month. The fate of Schumer's bill is uncertain because of possible objections by the Department of Homeland Security, which moved the cars to Idaho under tight security.