THE ASHFORD Town Board in Cattaraugus County has apparently made it more possible for New York State to pick West Valley as the location of the low-level radioactive waste storage area it must establish by 1993.
The board has amended a five-year-old resolution against storing any nuclear wastes within Ashford's boundaries to simply ban high-level materials. The town supervisor says the board is only clearing the way for informational meetings on tax breaks allied with the a low-level dump, but it would have been possible to hold the meetings without changing any resolutions.
Whatever the board's intent, it members should not now line up in favor of being the state's low-level site. West Valley already has all the nuclear waste it can handle. A 3,300-acre site in West Valley once held a commercial plant for reprocessing nuclear fuel. The reprocessor abandoned the plant in 1974, leaving behind 600,000 gallons of highly radioactive liquid in underground tanks. The cleanup is continuing 16 years later in what is called a "demonstration" project.
Because it already hosts so much waste, West Valley looks tempting to some people as a happy alternative to Allegany and Cortland counties, where residents have risen up in virtual rebellion against the prospect one of them would be picked for a low-level waste site. It gains in attractiveness if the Ashford board makes welcoming sounds.
But it is a bad idea anyway. To deposit more nuclear waste at West Valley would only disrupt the process of cleaning up what is already there. What there is of useable excess land should be set aside for the relocation of existing wastes, according to the West Valley Coalition on Nuclear Wastes.
Also, there are doubts about West Valley geologically. Experts say fractures and sandy areas raise questions about the containment qualities of West Valley's ground. Erosion, land-sliding and water table fluctuations have been sited by the coalition.
New York State has a tough dilemma. To comply with a federal law, it must establish a low-level dump somewhere. Allegany and Cortland residents have successfully adopted techniques of civil disobedience to turn aside the efforts of the state's Low-Level Radioactive Waste Siting Commission to find the place for the dump.
No doubt West Valley looks easier by comparison. But that does not make it the right site.