January 21, 2023 — Olean Times Herald
For decades, the West Valley Citizens Task Force, environmental groups and area county and local governments have pressed for a full cleanup at the West Valley Demonstration Project.
The Seneca Nation has also called for a full cleanup at West Valley.
The 200‐acre WVDP in the town of Ashford was the site of the nation’s only commercial reprocessing plant for spent nuclear fuel, which operated from 1966 to 1972.
It was many years after the site was abandoned by Nuclear Fuel Services that the West Valley Demonstration Project Act of 1980 was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.
Many milestones have been met, such as solidifying 600,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste and preparing the main plant process building for deconstruction, which is ongoing. That is expected to take up to 30 months.
But what of underground radioactive hazards — two very large steel tanks with radioactive residue inside and the New York State and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRD) Disposal Areas that sit on a plateau above a waterway that empties into Cattaraugus Creek, which in turn flows to Lake Erie?
The Citizens Task Force, which serves as a watchdog to the U.S. Department of Energy and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, has insisted from the beginning that the plateau above Buttermilk Creek is
no place for the long‐term storage of highly‐radioactive waste.
In 2010, it was determined to use phased decision‐making to address the WVDP cleanup. Phase 1 included the solidification of the radioactive liquid waste into 275 steel containers, each 10 feet high, which are now stored on the site in more than 50 concrete casks. It also includes the demolition of the main plant process building to ground level, as well as intercepting an underground strontium‐90 plume coming from the building.
Phase 1B probably won’t start until 2025 or 2026. That will involve removing the parts of the main plant process building below ground. Those plans are underway.
Phase 2 will be what comes after that. It can range from complete removal of all traces of the facilities to walking away and doing nothing — which is considered unlikely.
LEAVE TANKS IN PLACE?
What has been emerging over the past several meetings of the Citizens Task Force have been comments from state and federal officials regarding the possibility of leaving the steel tanks in place and excavating only parts of the unlined underground trenches filled with everything from medical waste to radioactive filters from the plant and a damaged fuel cell assembly.
Longtime Citizens Task Force member Joe Patti said at Wednesday night’s meeting that it appeared the tanks presented less of a danger than the burial areas, which are covered with special rubber membranes, but sit on a plateau and are surrounded by creeks.
Department of Energy Site Director Bryan Bower indicated earlier that some of the radioactive materialremaining inside the 600,000‐gallon tanks, like cesium and strontium 90, had a half‐life of 28‐30 years. The material in one tank has been dried, while the other one still contains moisture. Patti said Wednesday the half‐life might convince him to allow the tanks to remain while focusing on excavating the burial sites.
The big issue at the site, said NYSERDA director Paul Bembia, is erosion. The task force is expected to hear more about erosion modeling next month from Neptune Inc., which DOE hired to help determine what the site will look like in the future. NYSERDA would also like the tanks removed and the burial grounds excavated.
NYSERDA and DOE officials have discussed using engineered barriers to protect the burial grounds and other facilities in the future. Also discussed as an option was excavating only parts of the burial grounds where there were high levels of radioactive material.