The secretary general to the United Nations recently raised concerns about the soundness of a concrete dome built last century on the Marshall Islands to prevent waste from atomic-bomb tests from leaking into the Pacific Ocean. 

As noted in a report last week from CBS News, the Marshall Islands were ground zero for 67 American nuclear weapons tests from 1946-58 at Bikini and Enewetak atolls, when it was under U.S. administration. CBS reported that the tests included the 1954 “Bravo” hydrogen bomb, the most powerful ever detonated by the U.S., about 1,000 times bigger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The radioactive soil and ash from the explosions was put into a crater and capped using a concrete dome that is roughly 10 inches thick. The dome was designed as a temporary fix and, according to CBS, the crater was never lined, contributing to fears that the waste could be leaking into the Pacific Ocean. 

CBS reported that cracks have developed in the concrete and officials are concerned that a tropical cyclone could cause it to break apart. 

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres did not directly address what should be done with the dome but did acknowledge in the CBS report the need to address the Pacific’s nuclear history.

“I’ve just been with the president of the Marshall Islands (Hilda Heine), who is very worried because there is a risk of leaking of radioactive materials that are contained in a kind of coffin in the area,” Guterres told the news outlet. 

If the risk of the possibility of a failure in an aging structure designed to contain nuclear waste materials sounds familiar it’s because Niagara County has been home to a similar situation for decades now. 

The Niagara Falls Storage Site is home to the remnants of the U.S. government’s earliest nuclear weapons development program, commonly known as the Manhattan Project. A leak or multiple leaks at the site could have dire consequences for the surrounding environment, the nearby Niagara River included. 

While the Niagara River is not the Pacific Ocean, it is nonetheless a vital natural resource, one that requires the utmost protection from any and all potential threats, including the possibility of contamination from long-lingering nuclear waste disposal sites 

There is now, thankfully, a plan in place by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would result in the nuclear material being removed from the NFSS as part of a large-scale cleanup effort.

Yes, it will be expensive — running an estimated $490 million — but it is wholly necessary and worthy of full support from any and all local, state and federal officials who may play a role in it ultimately receiving the financing it needs to be carried out in full. 

Reports about a possible leak of a nuclear waste containment structure into the Pacific Ocean are disturbing and should give pause to all home and business owners who live in Niagara County. 

Like the dome in the Pacific Ocean, the containment unit at the NFSS dates back to the 1980s. In 1986, it replaced a pre-existing above-ground structure that had contained radioactive material dumped at the NFSS from 1944 to 1952.  

Here’s the question many residents in and around Lewiston have been asking for many years now: What if something unforeseen happens and the site experiences an issue that results in a leak or multiple leaks? 

If there’s concern about something similar happening in the Pacific, shouldn’t there be equal concern about something similar happening here? 

There’s a tendency where expensive, federally funded environmental cleanup projects are involved to keep pushing them off for some unforeseen date in hopes there will one day be sufficient support and adequate resources to bring them to fruition. 

Can Niagara County — home to the leftovers of the Manhattan Project — really afford to wait for some unforeseen tomorrow?  

The NFSS cleanup should not be viewed as a hardship, or something too expensive or too complicated to carry through. 

It must be viewed as a top priority, a necessary step aimed at protecting one of Western New York’s most important freshwater resources from the threat of contamination from one of the largest nuclear waste hotspots in all of America.