State-licensed Disposal Area (SDA):
The SDA is a burial ground where commercial nuclear wastes were "disposed" in cardboard boxes, crates and fifty gallons drums. After it began leaking low-level waste into nearby Cattaraugus Creek, it was closed in 1975. Millions of gallons of radioactive water were pumped out and filtered.
The SDA still contains the same leaking waste containers, which hold materials that will be dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. This part of the site is under the responsibility of NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research & Development Authority). They prefer leaving the waste on site and letting future generations deal with it.
NRC-licensed Disposal Area (NDA):
The NDA contains waste created by the on-site reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. It was licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the 1960s. It contains high level radioactive waste buried just under the surface. Plutonium began leaking from it in 1983.
In 1986 leaking tanks were exhumed and found to have ruptured welds and lids sealed with duct tape! Other tanks buried at the same time have not been exhumed. Who is responsible for this part of the site is debateable. DOE believes NYSERDA must deal with it. They are proposing to leave the waste on site. NYSERDA claims that DOE is responsible.
High Level Waste Tanks:
There are three tanks that contained radioactive liquid waste that was created during the reprocessing of nuclear fuel. The largest of these was 75 feet in diameter and 26 feet high. The 600,000 gallons of liquid have been removed and vitrified but because there is no national depository for high-level waste, these materials remain on site waiting for a final destination.
The tanks that held the liquid are still highly radioactive. They are currently classified as high-level waste. The DOE wants to reclassify these materials to "incidental waste," allowing them to fill them with concrete and leave them where they are.
This building was used by Nuclear Fuel Services to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. Different areas of the building register varying levels of radioactivity. Numerous leaks and poor planning left a highly contaminated structure.
The DOE's plan calls for removing some of the radioactivity and upper structure but reducing the rest to rubble and burying it in concrete.
In 1992 the DOE discovered an underground plume of radioactivity leaking into the watershed. It was determined to have originated from a leak in the Process Building during the 60's.
Underground water was pumped and treated. Though helpful, this created more waste filter medium and was not efficient. The plume continued to grow and a clay wall was installed to stop its progress. It was unsuccessful and the problem remains unsolved. The radioactive material continues to slowly leak into the Great Lakes Watershed.
Even though this leak stems from the Process Building the DOE is denying responsibility. They have managed the plume for years but in recent communication with NYSERDA they have denied all responsibiliy for dealing with the problem.
Several lagoons are still used to hold liquids with a short half-life. When the fluids meet government regulated safety standards they are released into nearby streams.
These and the attached treatment facilities and filtering systems would be buried and left on site under the DOE's plan.
Low-Level Waste Storage Buildings:
These buildings contain contaminated waste in drums and packages. Some of these materials were originally stored in tents which blew down in a high windstorm. The radioactivity is of mixed levels.
The DOE intends to ship these items off site.
Drum Cell Facility:
This facility is a new structure built for short-term storage of wastes. It contains waste from the vitrification process.
Many of the highly toxic waste from the vitrification process will stay on site for many years. As with all nuclear waste, there's just nowhere for it to go.