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Clean up West Valley Floods and landslides expose risk of incomplete radiation cleanup

The coalition urging state and federal officials to do a full cleanup of the state's largest nuclear waste site, at West Valley, has a clear understanding of the implications of doing nothing.

Doing nothing means that far into the future, the legacy of West Valley will be the way in which we treated our natural resources. Will Lake Erie be a clean body of water free from radioactive-waste pollutants? Or will it contain evidence of neglect and of a refusal to take responsibility for the highly toxic nuclear wastes buried in, or leaking from, the decommissioned reprocessing site south of Buffalo?

There are already signs that should heighten concerns.

As a recent article by News reporter Mark Sommer noted, the severe flooding that devastated the Gowanda area last month also triggered a landslide on a 160-foot bank of Buttermilk Creek, which is adjacent to West Valley's nuclear waste trenches. The waste site also drains into streams that feed Buttermilk Creek, and into the Cattaraugus Creek watershed running through the Seneca Nation and into Lake Erie.

The buckets and brooms later brandished by 20 or so people outside the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority offices in Buffalo's Larkin at Exchange Building symbolized the cleanup. Of course, the activists fully understand that it will take the force of the state and of the federal Department of Energy to avoid any future radioactive contamination of Lake Erie drinking water.

Federal and state officials have said that they are considering keeping the bulk of the nuclear waste buried right where it is -- and promising to keep a careful eye on it. That's hardly a solution at all, let alone a long-term one.

This page has advocated digging up all the nuclear waste now and finding a place to keep it for the long term, thereby removing a large toxic land mine. But this would cost a lot of money -- roughly $10 billion.

An independent analysis, though, indicates that keeping the waste in place could cost $27 billion over the long term.

The West Valley site, home to a government-encouraged nuclear fuels reprocessing operation from 1966 to 1972, remains a serious concern not just for the surrounding communities but for all of Western New York. There is only one real answer: The 640 tons of irradiated materials from atomic operations, the liquid wastes later solidified by stirring it into melted glass in the federal "demonstration project," require a complete cleanup.

Future generations will pay the real price of doing nothing.

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