The Western New York Nuclear Service Center at West Valley ("West Valley") is unique in the nation. From 1966 to 1975, it housed the only private commercial facility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel ever operated in the United States, run by Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. In addition to reprocessing - extracting uranium, plutonium, and thorium from spent fuel for potential reuse - West Valley also served as a disposal site for a variety of radioactive wastes.
When Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. ceased active operations in 1975, it left behind a legacy of radioactive contamination - multiple buildings, lagoons, disposal areas, contaminated soil, 600,000 gallons of high level radioactive waste, and a still-migrating plume of radioactive groundwater. In an otherwise rural landscape, West Valley is a blight of long-lived radioactive and hazardous waste. While there have been successes over the years in addressing certain of these wastes - most notably solidification of the liquid high level radioactive waste - progress on the majority of the cleanup has been sporadic and slow. More than thirty years after reprocessing operations ceased, the contamination remaining at West Valley is a significant and enduring hazard.
A concerted effort to accelerate and complete work at the site is long past due. All of the involved state and federal agencies have been working toward this goal, laying the groundwork through a collaboration begun in 2006, known as the Core Team Process. The Core Team's work has proven productive, leading to new agreement on many technical issues. But on-the-ground progress is stymied by perennial funding shortfalls. In order to end the decades of delay in addressing the hazards at West Valley, the federal government must provide adequate funding to the United States Department of Energy, which has clear legal responsibility for, and authority over, a significant portion of the radioactive contamination at the site.
Compared to other similarly contaminated federal Department of Energy sites, the price tag for real improvements at West Valley is modest. With a minimum federal commitment of at least $95 million annually for roughly a decade, significant cleanup progress would be possible. Current federal budget figures, however, propose allocating only $57.6 million, little over half the needed amount. With each passing year of underfunding and workforce reductions on the part of the federal government, the costs and potential hazards at the site increase in tandem.
New York State is therefore actively seeking to secure sufficient federal funding to responsibly address the remaining waste at West Valley. And as the actual owner of the West Valley property, and the only state that shares in the cost of cleanup at a high level radioactive waste site, New York is also seeking to ensure that it has a deciding voice in determining the most protective outcome for West Valley. For more than three decades, as a result of the federal government's historic failure to meet its funding responsibilities, New York has had to live with both the immediate and potential hazards inherent to the site.
The report linked in the right column, West Valley History and Future, is a description of West Valley, its history and key features, and New York State's recommendations for cleanup, both immediate and long-term.