WEST VALLEY, N.Y. (WIVB) — Cleanup of the West Valley Demonstration Project has been going on for decades, but the Department of Energy has decided to demolish one of the site’s largest and most toxic buildings in July.
Activists warn if the proper safety measures are not taken at the Main Plant Process Building, just 30 miles south of Buffalo, there could be long term affects to those who live there.
“It’s potentially very dangerous to all of us in Western New York because of both the radioactivity and the hazardous material there,” explained Lynda Schneekloth, an advocate for the Sierra Club Niagara Group.
The Department of Energy says over 7 miles of piping and 50 tons of contaminated equipment has been removed from the site so far, but there is some that still remains.
This Main Plant Process Building once brought in nuclear waste from radioactive power and weapons complexes. It was reprocessed there until 1972. The liquid toxic waste from the 6 years of reprocessing took over a decade to convert to solid, and advocates claim still remains on the site, in steel containers.
The Department of Energy faces two requests from advocates, as they prepare to demolish this building.
The first request is that the demolition be done inside an enclosure to prevent toxic particles from going into the air.
Secondly, while the DOE already plans for air monitoring on-site, advocates want off-site monitoring too. This would reveal if dangerous particles move through the environment.
“They do it to protect the workers, which is fantastic, and really important. But, we want it to be off-site and real time, so we would know what’s happening,” said Schneekloth.
Diane D’Arrigo, with the West Valley Action Network, said the nuclear particles could get pushed off-site through the wind, which could result in contamination of land and water.
“We’re talking about the potential for radioactive materials to fall to the ground, get in the food chain, get in the water supply, get in the fish, get in the environment, and because some of them are so long lasting, it’s really an irreversible decision,” said D’Arrigo.
The Department of Energy tells News 4 it will make results public for their on-site monitoring. They also say they have no plans of doing an enclosed demolition. They believe after removing more than 98% of the contaminated debris in the building, their project is safe enough.
State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes has sent a letter to multiple state agencies, urging them to get involved and support the measures advocates have requested. In the letter, she wrote
“The concern of WVAN is that US Dept. of Energy is not planning this demolition in a way to ensure the protection of the public’s health from the possible release of radioactivity into the neighboring and downwind / downstream communities including Cattaraugus territory of the Seneca Nation Indians, Gowanda, Buffalo, WNY, Central NY and beyond.”Assembly Majority Leader, Crystal Peoples-Stokes
In an interview with News 4, Peoples-Stokes elaborated on the importance of these extra safety measures.
“No one knows in the short term or the long term, how difficult that ramifications will be on the citizenship. And so, because you don’t know, and you don’t want any radioactivity blowing around in anyone’s air, you need to do it properly.”
Peoples-Stokes said it will likely take much more than just her comments to get other state agencies involved. West Valley Advocates agree.
“I completely understand, it’s the squeaky wheel that get’s the oil. And if we have to keep squeaking, we will do exactly that. Because at the end of the day, there are tons of people and our environment at stake here,” said Peoples-Stokes.
Some wonder why the Department of Energy is not willing to take these steps. Schneekloth says without them… she fears irreversible damage if an accident were to happen. There’s not a lot of time left to change minds. Without the requested safety measures, advocates fear the worst possible scenario.
“It would go down the Cattaraugus creek through the Seneca nation, along Lake Erie, into all of our water intake systems. I mean….that would just be horrendous.”
The Department of Energy says the demolition will take approximately 40 months to complete.