| Group wants to revive lawsuit over West Valley
RICK MILLER , The Times Herald
| 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
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
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
“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
Concord Supervisor Mark Staffan served as moderator for the Coalition
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
“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
| ©The Times Herald, Olean, N.Y. 2003
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