U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today launched their push to secure $75 million in federal funding for the West Valley Demonstration Project in Western New York. Schumer and Gillibrand explained that the West Valley Demonstration Project in Cattaraugus County needs an allocation of at least $75 million per year for at least 10 years in order to complete the first phase of clean up at the former nuclear site, but it has been continually underfunded over the past several years. In 2008, the federal Department of Energy (DOE) issued an Environmental Impact Statement that said $75 million per year in federal funding would be the most cost-efficient way to clean up the site. However, to date, the West Valley Demonstration Project has been significantly underfunded in the President’s budget and by Congress. Therefore, Schumer and Gillibrand launched their push to secure the needed $75 million in federal funding in the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations bill.
“Each year that the West Valley Demonstration Project goes underfunded, the amount of time and money it will take to decontaminate and remove the radioactive waste from this Cattaraugus County site increases. This program has been continually shortchanged, year after year, and it is high time we finally get the $75 million – minimum – this site desperately needs for the cleanup effort. The federal government cannot balk at its longstanding commitment to contain and restore the West Valley nuclear site,” said Senator Schumer. “That is why I am urging my colleagues in Congress to keep their promise to Western New York, where this site has become both a public health and an environmental hazard, and restore full federal funding levels to $75 million in the 2017 appropriations bill.”
“We need to provide the necessary resources to decontaminate the nuclear site in West Valley so we aren’t putting the health and well-being of residents in Western New York at risk,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Environment & Public Works Committee. “I will continue to fight for increased funding for the West Valley Demonstration Project in the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations bill. Without increased funding for West Valley, the cleanup cannot be completed on schedule, which will result in higher costs to the federal government over time and prolong the environmental and public health risks associated with this contaminated site.”
Each year since the Environmental Impact Statement was issued, the West Valley Demonstration Project has been underfunded, despite the fact that it remains an environmental risk to all of Western New York. Additionally, despite the DOE’s suggestion of $75 million per year, in FY 2015, the West Valley site only received $60 million for cleanup efforts; in 2014, it received $66 million; in 2013, it received $61 million; in 2012, it received $66 million; and in 2011, it received $59 million. In FY 2016, the site received $59.2 million in funding. This is why Schumer and Gillibrand are urging federal appropriators to fund the program in FY 2017 at the agreed upon $75 million.
Schumer and Gillibrand have long fought to ensure the West Valley project is adequately funded. In March 2015, Schumer, during an in-person meeting, urged the President’s nominee for the Office of Environmental Management at the DOE, Monica Regalbuto, to prioritize the complete cleanup of the West Valley Demonstration Project and support full federal funding for the effort. During their meeting, Schumer argued that the short-changing of West Valley is out-of-step with other DOE cleanup sites, which have seen either sustained or increased funding.
West Valley spends approximately $20 million each year on utilities, worker salaries, and other expenses so that decontamination work may continue. This money must be spent regardless, and therefore, the longer the project is underfunded, the more money the project will require in the long run. DOE’s inability to adequately fund the West Valley cleanup site has put the effort significantly behind schedule and continued delays as a result of low funding only increase the public health risk posed by the contaminated material that remains at the site. Schumer emphasized in his meeting with Regalbuto that DOE should prioritize full clean-up in the most timely and economically efficient way possible. Schumer also urged Regalbuto to take into account the potential impacts of environmental factors, such as erosion, which could have increasingly negative effects if the project takes longer than originally projected. 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 nuclear waste in six years before shutting down in 1972. The West Valley Demonstration Project Act, signed into law on October 1, 1980, required the Department of Energy to solidify and dispose of the high-level waste, and decommission the facilities used in the process.
The West Valley Reprocessing Plant was formerly an 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. Today, millions of gallons of radioactive waste remain at the site. The plant was shut down in 1972 after regulations at the time required plant modifications. These new regulations were deemed by plant operators to be economically infeasible.
A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter to federal appropriators appears below:
As you begin your work on the Fiscal Year 2017 Appropriations Bill, I write to express my strong support for the West Valley Demonstration Project (WVDP) in Ashford, New York. WVDP is a radioactive waste clean-up project within the Office of Environmental Management at the Department of Energy. WVDP receives funding from the Non-Defense Environmental Cleanup account within EM. As a result of difficult budget constraints, WVDP goes critically underfunded each year. Insufficient funding has had a variety of adverse impacts on the progress of the project: the overall cost, environmental impact, and length of time needed to clean up and decommission the facilities at the site has increased. I urge you to prioritize funding for WVDP at $75 million in Fiscal Year 2017 in order to enable the project to progress at a more expeditious pace.
From 1966 to 1972, Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc., under contract with the State of New York, operated a commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at the Western New York Nuclear Services Center. The plant reprocessed uranium and plutonium from used nuclear fuel and generated 600,000 gallons of high-level radioactive liquid. After five decades of nuclear weapons development and production and government-sponsored nuclear energy research at the plant, massive quantities of transuranic and mixed low-level waste were left at the site, and the residue includes millions of gallons of contaminated soil and water from those research activities. In 1980, Congress passed the West Valley Demonstration Project Act, authorizing the Department of Energy (DOE) to use the site to develop a method for removing the 600,000 gallons of radioactive waste. In addition, it required the Department to decontaminate and decommission the facilities used in that effort.
In 2008, the Department of Energy issued an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which established a phased process for removal of the waste. The EIS projected that Phase 1 of the cleanup could be completed within ten years with an annual budget of $75 million. However, each year, funding for the project since the EIS was issued has fallen short of the $75 million required. In addition, a total of $20 million per year is required for utilities, worker salaries, and other expenses so that decontamination work may continue. This amount must be spent regardless, and therefore, the longer the project is underfunded, the more money the project will require in the long run. With this in mind, I am requesting a total of $75 million within the Non-Defense Environmental Cleanup account in the Office of Environmental Management for the West Valley Demonstration Project.
A funding level of $75 million will allow the Department of Energy to effectively and expeditiously clean up hazardous sites within the complex and will be the best way to address time sensitive environmental concerns. I recognize the difficult budget constraints under which you are working, and appreciate your consideration of this request. It is absolutely imperative that we prioritize the complete cleanup of the West Valley site. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can provide more information in support of this request.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
United States Senator