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Lewiston’s Niagara Falls Storage Site Houses Dangerous World War II-Era Nuclear Waste From Lake Ontario Installation; Thousands Of Gallons Of Manhattan Project Waste Continue To Be Stored In Residential Area, Within A Mile Of Local Schools

Senator Calls On Colleagues To Increase Funding For Critical Cleanup Program Used To Remediate Niagara Site By +260%; Says Continued Delays Are Inexcusable 

Schumer: Fed Plan To Clean Up Niagara Nuke Mess Shouldn’t Collect One More Layer Of Dust 

Standing at the Niagara Falls Storage Site in Lewiston, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on his colleagues in Congress to approve a $250 million increase to a critical environmental clean-up program to finally remediate the World War II-era nuclear waste contained at the site. The Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) is a federal program administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clean-up nuclear material at contaminated former defense facilities like the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works (LOOW) site in Lewiston, where the Niagara Falls Storage Site was built. Schumer said that the Army Corps and community members agreed in 2015 on an 8-10 year $490 million remediation project, but lack of funds and bureaucratic delays have caused the site to remain virtually untouched. Schumer emphasized the need for a swift clean-up of the site, which contains uranium, plutonium, and radium waste from the Manhattan Project and has been sitting under just ten feet of soil for more than 30 years. In March, after years of indecision by Washington officials at the Army Corps of Engineers, the Record of Decision (ROD) was approved for the project, which finally outlines the plan for cleanup. Senator Schumer emphasized the need for this increased funding and for the Army Corps to keep their promise to Niagara County residents and immediately prioritize the Niagara Fall Storage Site remediation project to get it back on schedule.  

“While the Army Corps did commit to remediating the Niagara Falls Storage Site all the way back in 2015, the project has been stunted by bureaucratic red tape and a lack of funding, pushing its potential start date back by as many as ten years. It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to know that allowing nuclear materials from World War II to sit merely ten feet below the surface for 30 years is a terrible idea,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why today I’m urging Congress to boost funding for the critical FUSRAP by $250 million and calling on the Army Corps to do every single thing possible to prioritize the remediation of nuclear residue at NFSS. The Niagara County community deserves the peace of mind of knowing that waste from the very first atomic bomb is out of their backyard—it’s time we provided them with it.”

After extensive pressure from the surrounding Niagara County communities, in 2015, the Army Corps held a series of public meetings with local officials and community groups to determine how best to address the nuclear residue at the Niagara Falls Storage Site (NFSS). The parties agreed to a $490 million, 8-10 year plan that would remove all of the nuclear material from NFSS, to be funded entirely by the Army Corp’s FUSRAP. However, due to a lack of funding for FUSRAP and bureaucratic red tape, the Army Corps did not sign the Record of Decision (ROD) for the NFSS remediation project in 2017, as intended, and only gave the final go-ahead three weeks ago. Schumer explained that because FUSRAP projects cannot be queued up for funding until their ROD has been signed by the Army Corps, the remediation could be delayed by as many as ten years. Schumer called this development entirely unacceptable, and urged the Army Corps to do everything possible to move the NFSS project up the queue and prioritize the remediation.

To aid this process, Schumer launched a major effort to secure $400 million for FUSRAP—a $250 million increase over 2019 levels—for FY2020 to increase the likelihood that the NFSS remediation project gets expediently funded. In Fiscal Year 2019, FUSRAP received $150 million in federal funding, however, Schumer explained, in its Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposal, the administration suggested slashing funding for FUSRAP by $9 million, bringing it to a total of $141 million. Schumer decried these proposed cuts, and explained that the NFSS remediation project is expected to cost roughly $60 million per year and that the FUSRAP pot must be made significantly larger, not smaller. To rid Niagara County of the dangerous nuclear material at NFSS, Schumer called on his colleagues in Congress to reject the administration’s budget proposal and instead increase funding for FUSRAP by $250 million, to provide some much-needed peace of mind to the surrounding Niagara County communities.

“I certainly want to thank Senator Schumer for reaching out to the community and for trying to get this project moving. We’ve struggled with this issue for a long time. It’s finally time to see some movement on this project,” said Clyde Burmaster, a Niagara County legislator who represents the affected area.

Schumer explained that from 1941-1948, LOOW was an operational military installation in Niagara County that spanned 7,500 acres of land, mostly in the Town of Lewiston. While the site was primarily used to develop TNT, in 1943, the Army Corps of Engineers began using LOOW to store nuclear residue and waste from the Manhattan Project, due to LOOW’s proximity to a nearby Tonawanda plant where uranium was processed. While all of the buildings used for TNT development at LOOW were demolished during the 20th century, much of the Manhattan Project waste, including waste from experiments at the University of Rochester, was stored on-site.

In 1982, the DOE began an initial clean-up of the hazardous waste and transferred it into a waste containment structure, which today is known as NFSS. Finished in 1986, NFSS is about ten total acres and only covered by ten feet of dirt and a layer of grass. All of the nuclear residue and leftover materials from LOOW are still, to this day, stored under the NFSS. In fact, the NFSS is home to the largest concentration of radium-226 on the planet. Schumer explained that while the NFSS is secure for the time being, it’s still a 30-year old facility, making it all the more dangerous. Schumer argued that with such destructive materials only ten feet below the ground and the facility getting older by the minute, the NFSS has to be remediated immediately and cannot afford to wait.

The Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) was initiated in 1974 to identify, investigate and clean up or control sites throughout the United States that had become contaminated from the nation’s early atomic weapons and energy programs during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. FUSRAP, originally managed by the federal Department of Energy, was later transferred to the Army Corps in 1997 to better address the contaminated sites. The Army Corps provides complete funding for and conducts the remediation of the nuclear materials, as all designated FUSRAPs exist due to the activities of the federal government through the Department of Defense. Currently, there are 25 FUSRAP projects across the country, including the Tonawanda Landfill, which Senator Schumer successful pushed Congress to fund last year.