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Army Corps to test Porter field where nuclear waste was burned in the open air

The U.S. government in the 1950s ordered the burning of nuclear waste in the open air on a field in Porter.

So how safe is that field today?

The answer could come in a year or two now that the Army Corps of Engineers has announced it will begin a $600,000 project to investigate the small field. The probe will look for radioactivity.

The 4-acre field is owned by CWM Chemical Services, which owns 710 acres in Lewiston and Porter, including its closed hazardous waste landfill. The company is seeking state permission to open a second landfill.

The field to be investigated is "not part of our operational area," CWM spokeswoman Lori Caso said.

The field is just north of the Niagara Falls Storage Site, created in the 1980s by the Department of Energy as a home for the worst of the nuclear waste. Some 278,000 cubic yards of nuclear waste, contaminated soil and debris lie buried under 20 feet of clay at the storage site, located on the north side of Pletcher Road between Lutts and Porter Center roads. The waste in the storage site came from the World War II atomic bomb project and other wartime and postwar nuclear industry.

A December 2016 Corps report urged further investigation of the field to see if it poses a danger to human health.

It cited a 1982 U.S. Department of Energy report that says the Atomic Energy Commission ordered Hooker Electrochemical Co. of Niagara Falls to burn low-level radioactive waste on a concrete pad there during the 1950s.

Jeffrey M. Rowley, the storage site project manager, said Wednesday that the pad is still there. The pad is about 30 feet by 10 feet. It is in the southeast corner of the 4-acre field.

Local governments and citizens opposing CWM's expansion plans have cited the possible release of radioactive contamination as one of their numerous arguments against digging a new landfill.

CWM's property is north of the storage site. Modern Disposal's garbage landfill lies to the east. And a National Grid power right-of-way lies to the west.

"Niagara Falls Storage Site Vicinity Property H Prime" is the name the Corps of Engineers has given to the 4-acre field that will be tested.

Rowley said the work there, scheduled to begin in late September and finish by winter, calls for the Corps' contractor, ARS Aleut Remediation, to perform a radiological scan to look for uranium, thorium and radium.

After that, soil borings and groundwater samples will be taken, and a report will be issued in 2019 or 2020 to recommend either more investigation or  remediation. The option of doing nothing further in the four-acre field also will be considered, Rowley said.

After 15-year fight over new landfill, CWM review resumes Tuesday

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