Five environmental groups yesterday accused the Energy Department and the state of New York of violating the secrecy provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in reaching an agreement to reopen the nuclear waste burial ground at West Valley, 30 miles southeast of Buffalo.
"The secrecy of this negotiation is one that concerns us greatly," consumer advocate Ralph Nader said yesterday at a news conference called by the five groups to protest the agreement. "It illustrates once again that Energy Secretary [James R.] Schlesinger [Jr.] does not have even minimal sensitivity on this issue of public participation in decisions made on nuclear waste."
After months of talks, the Energy Department and New York state argeed on a plan under which the federal government will solidify and eventually remove the highly radioactive liquid wastes stored at West Valley in exchange for the state's promise to reopen a burial ground for lowlevel waste and accept new spent nuclear fuel at West Valley.
"What we have here is DOE engaging in nuclear blackmail," said Tom Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We'll take care of your high-level waste in return for your making sure that West Valley becomes the nuclear waste dump for the East Coast."
Cochran said the Energy Department had promised public and environmental participation in all nuclear waste storage issues. He said the department had publicly endorsed the NEPA process and had called for, in its recent Inter-Agency Review Group report on nuclear waste disposal, public discussion of all waste issues.
"No sooner did that document hit the streets," Cochran said, "than DOE goes back to its old ways of making secret deals.
"The Environmental Protection Agency was not notified, the Council for Environmental Quality the same," Cochran went on. "So much for the NEPA process in the management of nuclear waste for the future."
The Friends of the Earth called the agreement "a classic example of backroom dealing and pork-barrel politics." The Sierra Club sent identical telegrams to New York Gov. Hugh L. Carey and President Carter telling them they were "out of touch with the feelings of millions of New Yorkers" about the reopening of the burial site.
Cochran called the West Vally site a "bad one," saying it had a high water table, connecting links to Lake Ontario and "chronic leakage problems." He said it was "ludicrous" to propose its expansion.