03.26.15

SCHUMER, IN PERSONAL MEETING WITH FED OFFICIAL WHO WILL OVERSEE WEST VALLEY DEMONSTRATION PROJECT, PUSHES TO RESTORE FULL FUNDING FOR RADIOACTIVE WASTE CLEANUP AT THE CATTARAUGUS COUNTY SITE – PROGRAM HAS BEEN SHORTCHANGED FOR YEARS & CONTINUES TO POSE ENVIRONMENTAL RISK TO WNY

The West Valley Demonstration Project Needs at Least $75 Million Per Year to Completely Clean Up the Out-of-Use Former Nuclear Site; Feds Previously Agreed This Funding Was Needed for 10 Years Beginning in 2008, But Program Has Not Been Funded At Necessary Levels Since

In Personal Meeting With Nominee To Lead Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, Monica Regalbuto, Schumer Urged Nominee to Support Full $75 Million Funding Level for West Valley Cleanup in Future Years – Senator Vows To Fight To Secure Full $75 Million Needed This Year 

Schumer: Feds Must Not Balk at Commitment to Clean West Valley Site – DOE Nominee Must Prioritize West Valley Site’s Funding


U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that, during an in-person meeting, he urged the President’s nominee for the Office of Environmental Management at the Department of Energy (DOE), Monica Regalbuto, to prioritize the complete cleanup of the West Valley Demonstration Project and support full federal funding for the effort, which has been short-changed for over five years. Schumer explained that the West Valley Demonstration Project 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 out-of-use nuclear test site, but it has been continually underfunded over the past several years. In 2008, the DOE issued an Environmental Impact Statement which said that $75 million per year in federal funding would be needed to begin cleaning up at a more economically efficient pace.  

However, to date, the West Valley Demonstration Project has been significantly underfunded in the President's budget and by Congress. Each year since the Environmental Impact Statement was issued, the President has underfunded it in his Budget requests – despite the fact that it is still an environmental risk to the residents 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. Next year, in FY 2016, the funding could drop to the $61 million that was proposed in the President’s budget unless Congress increases funding. In Schumer’s meeting with the President’s nominee to oversee the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, Monica Regalbuto, Schumer said the short-changing of West Valley is out-of-step with other DOE cleanup sites, which have seen either sustained or increased funding.

“I met with the President’s nominee to for the Office of Environmental Management and let her know in clear terms that we have not received a sufficient amount for West Valley clean-up and that we must fund the clean-up effort at $75 million this year – and in the years ahead,” said Senator Schumer. “Each year that the West Valley Demonstration Project goes underfunded, the amount of time and money it will take to decontaminate and remove the waste at the site increases. This program has been continually shortchanged, year after year, and the President’s budget request for 2016 once again has come in far below what is necessary for this cleanup effort. The federal government cannot balk at its longstanding commitment to contain and restore the West Valley nuclear site,” said 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 at $75 million per year. I am also pushing the President’s nominee to prioritize the clean-up and to understand that we need a larger commitment from the Administration in future years. Shortchanging this program will only, further delay the cleanup process, and jeopardize potential economic growth surrounding the site.”

Schumer said that the President’s budget request has not included enough money for the project in recent years and has continually fallen far short of the necessary $75 million, which has resulted in subsequent Appropriations bills also underfunding this important project. This is why Schumer will be leading a letter urging federal appropriators to fund the program in FY 2016 at the agreed upon $75 million, as opposed to the President’s budget request of $61 million. Second, Schumer is urging the incoming Assistant Secretary, should she be confirmed, to work to increase funding for this critical project in the President’s budget for FY 2017 and beyond.

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.

The Department of Energy’s 2008 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) established a budget and timeline for decontaminating and removing the toxic waste from the site. The EIS stated that in order to decontaminate and remove the low-level waste from the site over the course of 10 years, it would cost approximately $75 million per year. 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.

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 unfeasible.

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