Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged Department of Energy (DOE) nominee Ernest Moniz to adequately fund the West Valley Demonstration Project, a federal initiative to clean a former nuclear site in Western New York. In a personal meeting ahead of his Senate approval for the Secretary position, Senator Schumer highlighted to Mr. Moniz that that this project is a top priority and he would continue to advocate for the funding that was committed to West Valley. Schumer pressed Mr. Moniz on the importance of pursuing full clean-up because it's the only way to fully protect public health, and urged Mr. Moniz to commit to aid in the completion of the West Valley cleanup thoroughly and with all necessary resources.
"The federal government cannot balk at a longstanding commitment to contain and clean up the West Valley nuclear site in Western New York," said Schumer. "Ahead of Ernest Moniz's approval as the next Energy Secretary, I've doubled down on my emphasis that West Valley cannot go another year without the necessary funding to complete the cleanup process. I have long fought for adequate cleanup funding for the West Valley Demonstration Projects in addition to compensation for former employees of the plant who suffered health problems due to exposure to nuclear materials."
The West Valley Demonstration Project needs at least $75 million per year to fully clean up the out-of-use nuclear site, and in 2010, the DOE committed to provide that funding for ten years. However, to date, the West Valley cleanup site has been considerably underfunded by the DOE and now represents a major environmental risk to the residents of Western New York. Despite the DOE's promise of $75 million per year, in FY 2012 the West Valley site only received $64 million for cleanup efforts. Next year, the funding will drop to $47 million unless the DOE changes course. These drops in funding to the West Valley are out-of-step with other DOE cleanup sites, which have seen either sustained or increased funding.
DOE's inability to adequately fund the West Valley cleanup site has put the effort significantly behind schedule and continued delays only increase the risk to public health posed by the remaining contaminated material at the site. Schumer emphasized in his meeting with Moniz that DOE should pursue an approach to the cleanup process that prioritizes full clean-up, and takes into account the potential impacts of environmental factors like erosion on the site. It is only through full and swift clean-up that the damage to public health, the watershed, and the surrounding community can be mitigated.
West Valley is the site of the first and, to date, only commercial reprocessing plant in the United States. After beginning operations in 1966 with a theoretical capacity to reprocess 300 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel per year, the facility processed a total of 640 tons of waste in six years before shutting down in 1972. The West Valley Demonstration Project Act, signed into law on October 1, 1980, required that the Department of Energy be responsible for solidifying the high-level waste, disposing of waste created by the solidification, and decommissioning the facilities used in the process.
West Valley Reprocessing Plant was a formerly operational plant for the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel at West Valley, New York. It was operated from 1966-72. During this time period, 600,000 gallons of highly radioactive waste accumulated in an underground waste tank. Escalating regulation required plant modifications which were deemed uneconomic and the plant was shut down.