COMMENTS on "DEIS for Completion of the West Valley Demonstration Project and Closure or Long-Term Management of Facilities at the Western New York Nuclear Service Center"

by James Rauch
Coalition on West Valley Nuclear Wastes

September 22, 1996

1) The draft EIS presents an inadequate assessment of the collective population doses which may result from the various proposed alternative actions. Off-site health impacts for the population living only within a 50-mile (80 kilometer) radius of the Center are estimated. The impacts are given in tabular form (for example Table D-20 on page D-50) and graphical form (for example Figure D-11 on page D-51). The tables list: 1) scenario-specific individual dose estimates for a single year -- the estimated year of maximum dose -- attributable to each waste management area deemed to have a significant impact, and 2) scenario-specific off-site population (as defined) dose estimates for a single year -- the estimated year of maximum dose -- attributable to each waste management area, and also estimates of the number of latent cancer fatalities expected from those collective doses. The figures show the time course of scenario-specific individual doses (in millirems per year) typically only out 1000 years to the year 3000 (Figure D-7 depicts dose estimates to the year 4000). There are no figures showing the time course of off-site population doses. No integration over time of either the individual doses or the collective off-site population doses has been performed and presented.

At meetings between Coalition representatives and representatives of the Department of Energy (DOE), the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) [the DEIS document preparer], the Coalition requested, and DOE/NYSERDA agreed, that long-term estimates would be made, as accurately as possible, of the total population doses and associated total health effects (including non-fatal cancers and genetic effects, as well as fatal cancers) that may be expected over the next 10,000 years for each alternative. It was also agreed that the impact population used in these estimations should include all users of potentially-contaminated surface drinking waters, including Lake Erie, the Niagara River, and other downstream waters. (This population is much larger than the 350,000 people served by the Buffalo Municipal Water Distribution system, apparently the sole population included in this pathway [page D-15]. It should include the populations served by the more proximal Erie County Water Authority intake at Sturgeon Point, as well as the ECWA Van de Water intake in Tonawanda, and all other downstream water intakes, including Lockport, Niagara Falls, Hamilton, Toronto, etc..) This information has not been presented in this draft EIS. This must be corrected in the final EIS. This information should be provided both in complete form (explanatory text, tables and graphs) in chapter 5 and also in a summary table in the "Summary" document.

2) On pages D-15 and D-16 it is stated that "Population doses were estimated for the Buffalo Municipal Water Distribution system ... based on a predicted stream water concentration and dilution in Lake Erie equivalent to mixing in the flow of the Niagara River". While this assumption would likely be conservative and appropriate for Niagara River and downstream intakes, it may not be appropriate for the Buffalo intake and would be even less appropriate for Sturgeon Point. Please elaborate upon the reasoning behind this dilution assumption.

3) The second-to-last paragraph on page 3-151 seems to indicate that doses of 25 millirems per year and below (attributed to several facilities at the Center) were not included in the collective population dose estimates, because "according to 10 CFR Part 61.41" they "are considered to be minimally important when comparing alternatives." Is this true? Who considers these doses to be minimally important? Millions of people draw potentially contaminated surface water downstream of West Valley. Therefore, while the individual doses may be "considered" low, the collective population doses and numbers of associated health effects may be quite large. See comment 1.

4) The intent of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) public EIS environmental review process is to provide meaningful public review of actions which are determined to have a significant impact on the environment. The presentation of this DEIS could be more accessible and better meet that intent by providing additional cross-references -- in the text, tables, figures, and index -- to the locations of important related information.

For example: a) in chapters 3, 5, and Appendix D there is no map showing the 50-mile radius off-site population impact area and total population in that area, although this information is pertinent to these chapters (The only maps in this regard are Figures 5-12 and 5-13 in section 5.8, "environmental justice"). b) Figure 5-11, page 5-120, should be listed in the index under erosion.

5) Table S-4 in the Summary should clearly indicate that the peak doses shown as "(mrem)" pertain to the estimated annual dose (mrem/year) received by an individual "receptor" in the estimated year of maximum exposure. As it stands, these doses could be misinterpreted as lifetime individual doses. This can be corrected by using a modification of the footnote "a." approach of tables in chapter 5 (ex., Table 5-42): perhaps "Doses are estimates of the annual dose to an individual from the facility (shown in parentheses) in the estimated year of maximum impact (shown in brackets)".

6) Table 3-26 presents a comparison of estimated costs for each alternative, broken down into the implementation and post-implementation (100 year period commencing at completion of implementation) periods. The annual post-implementation cost for both alternatives IIIA and IIIB is given as $11 million per year, for a total 100- year period cost of $1.1 billion. And then what? Post-implementation activities will cease? Figures D-8 and D-11 show that the serious radiation dose impacts from loss of institutional control and failure of the erosion control measures (resulting from cessation of post-implementation phase site maintenance activities) will just be commencing at that point ("The large dose peaks at the time beyond 250 years are from release of americium-241 and plutonium isotopes ... ," page D-50), and they continue at dose levels ranging from 100s to tens of 1000s (one peak is 200,000) of millirems per year for approximately the next 1000 years. At that point, just before the time-line ends at the year 3100, the graph exhibits wider fluctuations in annual dose, but with peaks still above 10,000 millirems per year. In fact, the doses delivered under alternatives III and V, as depicted in Figures D-8 and D-11 respectively, are almost identical, the only significant difference being that the onset of the high doses occurs about 100 years earlier in alternative V (discontinue operations).

This section of Appendix D clearly suggests that "post-implementation phase" maintenance activities will have to be continued for much longer than 100 years if significant numbers (hundreds to thousands) of on-site and off-site health effects are to be avoided. This means that the cost of alternative III will be manyfold greater than that presented, and in the long run, assuming measures are continued to maintain waste isolation, it is likely to exceed the cost of alternative I (removal), which has no post-implementation costs at the Center and very low long-term maintenance costs incurred at the best physical storage sites. And, the long-term health impacts of alternative I are expected to be far less than any of the on-site disposal alternatives because much more favorable physical conditions at the selected long-term storage site will greatly extend the period of waste isolation from the environment.

I believe our primary goal should be to minimize health effects for the duration of the hazard, while keeping overall long-term costs of waste isolation to a minimum consistent with that goal. Therefore, Alternative I should be selected.

If, however, the "decisionmakers" are intent upon keeping short-term management costs down and they select alternatives III or IV, the trade-off will be a premeditated acceptance of increased health effects (which have been poorly quantified, see comment 1) or, alternatively, much higher long-term waste management costs (compared to timely implementation of alternative I) if at a later date an effort to avoid these health effects is made.

We spend $400 million on each space shuttle trip. Several of these launches are made every year. Alternative I could be implemented and paid for over a twenty year period by eliminating just one shuttle launch per year.

7) Appendix B, "Statutes and Regulations Relating to Implementation Activities," should include the proposed EPA 40 CFR Part 196 radioactive site cleanup regulations. When enacted these regulations may be more stringent than the identified Nuclear Regulatory Commission's amendments to 10 CFR Part 20 regulations for decommissioning.

8) Page S-2 states "These five alternatives were identified after considering comments received on the Notice of Intent." Please indicate who identified alternatives IIIA and IIIB.

9) At least three private properties in the off-site cesium "prong" area are contaminated above the assumed contaminant cleanup level of 6.9 pCi/g (corresponding to a 15 millirem per year dose limit under a residential/agriculture use exposure scenario) identified in Table C-17. The area of such contamination is given as 60,000 square feet (page 4-100). The estimated depth of contamination is 4 inches, yielding approximately 20,000 cubic feet of above-criteria contamination. The potentially faulty assumption that vigorous grading activities, assumed to uniformly re-distribute the radioactivity throughout the top 18 inches of soil, would be necessary in order to construct residences in this area has been applied to avoid cleanup of this off-site contamination. This contamination clearly may lower property value. Have the property owners been consulted on this issue and their positions on cleanup of this contamination been obtained?

10) The West Valley reprocessing facility is the only commercial reprocessing facility ever established in the United States. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s the federal government (then it was DOE's predecessor agency the Atomic Energy Commission [AEC]) was strongly pushing peaceful applications of the "bomb". Efforts to entice investors included claims that "electricity would be too cheap to meter". Thinking that big money and opportunity was at hand, New York took the bait and established the Center. However, when the whole enterprise went "belly-up" in the '70s and faced with the prospect of spending large sums of money to keep people from dying out to the horizons of time, the federal government quickly changed their tune. In 1980, the federal government, through the West Valley Demonstration Project Act, arranged for New York to pay for all future waste management after vitrification of the high-level waste is completed. This situation is clearly unfair and should be corrected.