By Larry Brooks
The next few weeks present a window of opportunity for citizens to make a difference on one of the largest environmental hazards in Western New York. Until September 8th, the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) will be accepting comments on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which has explored how to cleanup the site.
The West Valley Demonstration Project is a repository of nuclear waste. DOE and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) are partners in maintaining the site and studying ways to decommission it. Decades of debate and studies have culminated in a Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) that has studied four alternatives for cleaning up this site. According to Brian Smith, WNY Program Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) the study prefers an alternative that would immediately address one issue--a plume of radioactive contamination has been migrating through groundwater, about 1 percent of the total waste onsite--and defer total cleanup of the site for thirty years.
But leaving buried waste on the site leaves the potential for environmental disaster. Sister Sharon Goodremote of Catholic Charities explains, "West Valley is surrounded by streams--Buttermilk, Cattaraugus, etc., which run directly into Lake Erie, one of the Earth's largest collections of fresh water. It's on a fault in the area known for movement in the land." Smith cites a report commissioned by the New York State legislature, written by independent academics, that concluded the site could be breached in the future. Smith says, "Even NYSERDA in the DEIS forward admits they're not comfortable with the long-term stability of the site." Smith also said that this report concluded that a full, immediate cleanup of the site would cost less than leaving the waste onsite for a long period of time and maintaining it and allowing for future leaks.
Goodremote says, "It's not acceptable to me to wait 30 years to remove the waste." She has both a personal and professional interest in this issue, getting out information and helping to organize religious and community groups. Catholic Charities has strongly supported the full cleanup--not only the social justice aspects--but also because "as stewards of creation, it is important we do the proper thing. This is definitely a moral issue, how we treat the gifts of creation. We, as humans are responsible [and] leaving nuclear waste at West Valley will not create a healthy environment."
CCE advocates for protection and restoration of the Great Lakes and considers West Valley one of the most serious threats. Smith says they consider this decision critical and are trying to garner grassroots support. "We are calling on them (DOE & NYSERDA) to do the safest and most effective cleanup of the total waste."
On Tuesday, September 1st at noon, there will be a West Valley Cleanup Crew Media Event at the NYSERDA offices in the Larkin Building, 726 Exchange Street, Buffalo. Join a coalition of environmental, religious, conservation, and community groups and policymakers. The event will alert the public to the end of the public comment period and announce a "Phone-a-thon Day" on September 2nd, in which people are asked to call the Department of Energy in support of a full cleanup. Organizers ask participants to bring a mop, bucket or broom to symbolize the 'cleanup crew."
What can you do now? Members of the public can submit their comments to the DOE online at: http://www.westvalleyeis.com/comment.htm or join fellow citizens at the demonstration, September 1st, at the NYSERDA office. For more information or to join the cause, contact Brian Smith at email@example.com or Sister Sharon Goodremote at firstname.lastname@example.org or 853-4424, ext. 3006.
Smith says, "There's no final decision yet. The public should provide comments to DOE calling for a full cleanup. Our health and the health of the Great Lakes are dependent on DOE and NYSERDA making the right decision."