Senior Brittni Cumberland created her own internship this summer with the WesternNew York Nuclear Service Center near West Valley, N.Y.
The environmental studies major from Effort worked with the New YorkState Energy Research and Development Authority.
She spent her summer
monitoring the environmental impact of radioactive wastes left over from the
area’s history with a nuclear reprocessing facility run by Nuclear Fuel
Services Inc. from 1966 to 1975.
purpose of the facility was to extract for reuse uranium, plutonium and thorium
from spent nuclear fuel, which is fuel already used in a nuclear reactor, in
this case derived mainly from federal weapons facilities. According to the New
York Department of Environmental Conservation, at the time, “West Valley also
served as a disposal site for a variety of radioactive wastes.”
internship, Cumberland was assigned to help monitor long-term and short-term trends
in the State Licensed Disposal Area. She “analyzed the leachate levels of 14
disposal trenches as well as surrounding groundwater wells” and also helped
“project future trends of each location.”
When Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. closed down in
1975, significant radioactive contamination remained, namely, according to the New
York Department of Environmental Conservation in 2008, “multiple buildings,
lagoons, disposal areas, contaminated soil, 600,000 gallons of high-level
radioactive waste, and a still-migrating plume of radioactive groundwater.”
Recent cleanup and
containment efforts are on track. For example, the liquid wastes cited in the
2008 report have been solidified in glass and encased in stainless steel.
Nevertheless, close and careful monitoring, like the work Cumberland did this
summer, remains essential.
“I worked with
the staff geologists to help introduce a new Geographic Information System mapping project,”
she said. “This project mapped groundwater elevation levels in reference
to ground surface elevation.
“I also worked on the
calibration of a flow monitor and developed a 10-step quick guide procedure for
the next person to deploy the flow monitor.” The flow monitor Cumberland refers
to will be used in a stream channel to measure water velocity, level and
“It will be useful to see the measurements taken during each season
and during flooding events. It can help with erosion prevention,” she said.
In addition to
monitoring, the team at West Valley is actively working on containment. “I worked
with the staff civil engineer and helped on a nationwide permit application
to the Army Corp of Engineers for maintenance work on a retaining wall within a
appreciates the potential for global impact in her field of study. “Environmental
issues are a global concern,” she says.
Knowing that the proximity of the West Valley site
presented an opportunity to work on far-reaching environmental issues,
Cumberland contacted the director of the Energy Research and Development
Authority at West Valley and sent her resume and transcripts. She then went
to meet with project members in person. The authority had to request permission
for an intern from their corporate office in Albany.
During the academic
year, Cumberland works on a project in the biology department at Pitt-Bradford,
under the supervision of Dr. Denise Piechnik, assistant professor of biology, and
Dr. Matthew Kropf, director of the ARG/Harry R. Halloran Jr. Energy Institute.
She is assisting with a new STEM Sense Project, “which incorporates
Arduino micro-controller sensors [to test levels of carbon dioxide, soil
moisture, acidity and more], into lab experiments.” This sort of experience
made her a well-prepared internship candidate.
given me the tools to conduct independent research,” she said. This knowledge has paid off. At the end of
her internship this summer, Cumberland presented her report on the State
Licensed Disposal Area to the authority.
“I am glad that
I put myself out there and contacted the director,” she said. “I am extremely
grateful to have learned so much this summer from the entire staff.”
students at Pitt-Bradford, Cumberland is also actively engaged in various
activities both on campus and in the community. She is on the volleyball team, works
at the front desk of the YMCA of the Twin Tiers in Bradford, and, this fall,
she will be a resident advisor.
fall semester, she will use the experience she gained this summer to assist a
team of graduate students from Princeton University who are monitoring the
environmental impact of Marcellus natural gas wells in the area. The graduate
students come quarterly to take measurements, but need local students to help
monitor in the interim periods.
students from several departments at Pitt-Bradford, including environmental
studies, energy science and technology, this
project is an example of one of several multidisciplinary research
opportunities available on campus.
Pitt-Bradford, Cumberland plans to apply to the State University Of New York
College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She wants to study for a Master
of Professional Studies in environmental management.