Manhattan Project Still Affecting Western New York
(Niagara County, NY, January 31, 2008) - - No one investigates like News 4. The federal government is trying to decide what to do with tons of radioactive material from the Manhattan Project. News 4's Luke Moretti reports.
Its been temporarily stored both above and below ground in Niagara County for decades. Behind this gate are stark reminders of a buried history in the Town of Lewiston.
Bill Kowalewski, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, "There is buried radioactive material."
Atomic materials that have been in the ground, covered by a clay cap, since the 1980's.
Michelle Rhodes, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, "A majority of them have a an extremely long half life in the millions of years range."
The United States Army Corps of Engineers just released the findings of an eight year investigation of the site. It concludes the clay containment cell is working, and that there's no imminent hazard to safety or health.
Bill Kowalski, "This structure will be protective for another 200 years."
But not everyone accepts the government report on its face. University at Buffalo scientist Dr. Joseph Gardella.
Dr. Joseph Gardella, University at Buffalo Scientist, "I have no confidence in those conclusions. That's the strongest statement I can say."
Walt Garrow, Environmental Health Professor, "Our fear is that it may be leaking. We don't know. We would like to find out more information."
To understand what's happening today, we need to go back in time 60 years. A time when a proud Western New York work force did what was required to end World War II.
August 1945, a mushroom cloud rises above Hiroshima, Japan. The atomic genie is out of the bottle. Results from a secret program known as the "Manhattan Project " with a deep connection to Western New York, drops Japan to its knees, ending World War II.
President Harry Truman, "...which specifies the unconditional surrender of Japan..."
Bill Kowalski, "This nation had one World War II. We had one Manhattan Project and there's one Niagara Falls storage site."
Commercial industries in places like Niagara Falls, Lockport, Tonawanda and Lackawanna provided much of the materials required to make the bomb.
We are standing right on the site of radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project, correct?
Michelle Rhodes, "Yes."
Located south of Lake Ontario and east of the Niagara River is the Niagara Falls Storage Site in the Town of Lewiston. This once robost farm land is now a radioactive graveyard.
Walt Garrow, "It's not designed for long-term. Even the government reconizes it by using the word interim."
Bottomline, although the government knew how to make the most complex weapon known to mankind, little was done to find a permanent solution for the radioactive waste. In fact for the first 30 years it was stored above ground in this silo.
Dr. Joseph Gardella, U.B. Scientist, "Certainly in the 80's it was just inexcusable to have this much material stored in an open silo."
Will we ever know the exposure from those materials being in the silo?
Dr. Joseph Gardella, "No..no..we won't."
In the mid 1980's the government moved it from above the ground silo. Today the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must decide whether it stays forever.
While the government claims there's no imminent public health threat to you, there is concern about the long-term storage of this radioactive material."
Bill Kowalski, "We know that there's a risk here. We have assumed that there is a long term risk here, and it needs to be dealt with."
Lou Ricciuti, Niagara County resident, "This community paid a very high price for America to have it's global standing. And the very least that's owed to us is the truth."
So what is the truth about the storage of atomic waste at the Lewiston site? If it's safe now, will it be ten, twenty, or hundred years from now?