U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced more than $75 million was included in the recently announced omnibus bill for cleanup of the West Valley Demonstration Project. Schumer and Gillibrand were able to successfully secure an additional $8.6 million above FY17 levels in the spending bill. The funding was included as part of the FY18 Omnibus, which is set to pass Congress in the coming days, to pay for ongoing cleanup efforts at the former nuclear site.
“After years of underfunding, this $75 million federal investment will finally fully fund this year’s cleanup in West Valley. 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 increases. So this nearly $9 million dollar increase is a positive step in the right direction,” said Senator Schumer. “I will continue to push my colleagues in Congress to invest in the cleanup effort, and keep funding at this appropriate level in the coming years, to protect Cattaraugus County residents, and all New Yorkers, and eventually end this public health and environmental hazard.”
“I’m very pleased to announce this funding for the West Valley Demonstration Project,” said Senator Gillibrand. “These federal funds will help ensure that the site will be cleaned up as quickly and safely as possible, so that Western New Yorkers can live and work in the area without having to worry about this decades-old nuclear waste. I was proud to fight for this funding, and I will continue do everything I can to make sure Western New York has the resources it needs to thrive.”
The senators explained the recently released federal spending package gives the West Valley Demonstration Project $75 million to help clean up the site. In 2008, the federal Department of Energy (DOE) issued an Environmental Impact Statement that said the site would need millions of dollars in federal support for the most cost-efficient plan. Since then, Schumer and Gillibrand have fought for and secured millions of federal dollars in order to give the West Valley Demonstration Project the resources it needs to support this critical cleanup effort. DOE has estimated that, in order to keep cleanup on track, the site needs $75M each year. However, each year, Congress has shortchanged the cleanup effort. 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 but this year Schumer and Gillibrand were able to secure $75 million to fund the program in the FY18 omnibus deal.
In March 2015, Schumer, during an in-person meeting, urged the former 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 Department of Energy (DOE) cleanup sites, which have seen either sustained or increased funding. Schumer also argued that the underfunding of the cleanup only increases the amount of time the project will take, wasting taxpayer dollars and risking the health of Western New Yorkers.
West Valley spends approximately $20 million each year on utilities, worker salaries, and other expenses so that decontamination work may continue. Schumer and Gillibrand’s newly secured higher funding level will aid the DOE’s ability to adequately fund the West Valley cleanup site. The Senators said 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.