Group wants to revive lawsuit over West Valley cleanup
By RICK MILLER , The Times Herald 07/19/2003
SPRINGVILLE — The Coalition on West Valley Nuclear Wastes will go to Federal District Court in Buffalo to try to reopen a 1986 lawsuit against the Department of Energy over the cleanup at the West Valley Demonstration Project.
Coalition member Raymond Vaughan of Hamburg told about 50 people attending a meeting at the Concord Town Hall in Springville Thursday night that the Coalition sees no other option.
Mr. Vaughan said the Coalition believes the federal Department of Energy is “bending the rules” to close the West Valley Demonstration Project site in the northern Cattaraugus County town of Ashford the way they want.
He said there are several long-term hazards that must be removed from the site including two low-level radioactive waste burial grounds, hazardous material in two underground steel tanks and residual material in the reprocessing building.
The Department of Energy favors the less expensive alternative cementing most of the facilities in place rather than removing them to a federal site for permanent disposal.
Carol Mongerson of Concord, a founding member of the Coalition, said that would make most of the wastes irretrievable.
“But the site is eroding,” she said. “The site will end up in Lake Erie.”
The Coalition, she said, would prefer to see everything radioactive to stay “in above-ground, retrievable storage.”
Ms. Mongerson said the DOE’s decision to split the 1996 draft environmental impact statement into two parts violated the 1987 settlement of the Coalition’s lawsuit against the Department of Energy.
The management EIS, dealing with the short-term removal of low-level wastes at the site has already been released. The environmental impact statement on the long-term stewardship of the site is expected to be released by the DOE in December.
“The split violates the contract DOE has with us,” said Ms. Mongerson. “It does things we consider unwise.”
Mr. Vaughan said DOE is using the opportunity to reclassify some radioactive wastes to allow them to be left in the ground.
One tank contained 600,000 gallons of liquid high-level radioactive waste, and the other was used during the vitrification process the wastes into glass.
“That process was completed last year. The tanks are now empty, but contain a radioactive residue. Corrosion is also a problem. Grout does not appear to us to be the answer,” Mr. Vaughan said.
Dr. Michael Wilson, a professor of geology at Fredonia State College, said, “The site will become eroded. The question is how soon. The site is vulnerable to erosion while the radioactive waste is still a threat.”
Parts of the state and federal burial grounds could be eroded in as little as 200 years, sending wastes into Cattaraugus Creek, which empties into Lake Erie, Mr. Vaughan said. The DOE claims it can keep erosion in check, he said.
The site, which operated as the nation’s only commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing center from 1966 to 1972, would not meet today’s National Environmental Protection Act standards, he added.
Another Coalition member, Joann Hameister, said redefining radioactive waste left in the underground tanks as waste incidental to reprocessing could allow the DOE to merely dilute the wastes.
“A new name does not remove the risks or hazard,” she said.
Ms. Mongerson said the Coalition, founded 29 years ago as a watchdog group, “is committed to litigation if we have to. It will cost money. We are not going to do this without funding.”
Diane D’Arrigo of the Washington, D.C.-based Nuclear Information Research Service, said the site’s radioactive elements include strontium, cesium, iodine 129 and others capable of causing cancers.
The only way DOE is going to remove low-level wastes buried in trenches “is if they are absolutely forced to,” she declared before handing Ms. Mongerson a $100 check to start the Coalition’s legal fund.
Ashford Supervisor Bill King, who was still angry about the DOE’s moving the nuclear train out of West Valley early Sunday without notifying local officials, praised the Coalition’s work over the last three decades.
“I’d be the first to agree if it weren’t for the Coalition, things wouldn’t be the way they are today,” he said.
He called for exhuming the low-level burial fields and placing the material in above-ground storage where it could be monitored before being shipped off site for permanent disposal. He said he is leaning toward favoring a more extensive cleanup of the site than DOE will propose.
Concord Supervisor Mark Staffan served as moderator for the Coalition information session.
Ron Cook of Conewango Valley, said the meeting was very similar to one he attended in the same room 25 years ago.
“I wish it would just go away,” he said. “It’s a true dilemma. I don’t feel there is a solution.”
A representative of a statewide environmental group, offered to help the Coalition in the fight over the extent of the federal clean-up, including getting petitions signed to demand DOE cleanup the site properly.
“This is not a popular issue,” Mr. Vaughan said. “The job can be done safely if you spend enough money.”
He said the potential for serious consequences in the future are high if the right decisions are not made.
He said the Western New York Congressional delegation including representatives Amory Houghton, Jack Quinn and Thomas Reynolds and U.S. senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer are supportive of the West Valley cleanup in terms of the federal budget.
However, he said, "They have not yet recognized that we are coming to a major decision."

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