INEEL open house draws few residents

10/25/99

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - Only 86 people trickled through a mostly empty open house sponsored by the Department of Energy to discuss a proposed incinerator that has drawn criticism from residents here.

Agency officials said Saturday they were disappointed and a little frustrated that attendance was so poor. They ran ads in local newspapers and on the radio for two weeks prior to the open house, said Department of Energy Director of Communication Ron King.

They brought displays and two dozen employees to the Jackson High School Gym outlining how the incinerator would work, research programs at the INEEL, and monitoring systems that track any air and groundwater pollution coming from the INEEL.

The department also is planning to open an office in Jackson near the end of this month to answer residents' questions. Shuttle buses will be available at the office to drive people over the mountains and take them on tours of the site.

King said the agency is not trying to feed people propaganda or change their minds, only to offer them balanced information so they can decide for themselves whether the incinerator will be safe.

"I think citizens here have a right to be heard and ask these questions," he said. "But I am frustrated they're only getting one side of the issue."

Some people like Steve Kruse, who has lived in the valley for 24 years, left feeling their questions had been answered and confident the incinerator could be operated safely.

Kruse, who works as a construction inspector, said he mainly wanted more information about the proposed facility, which would package and burn nuclear waste currently stored in Idaho.

Others who have raised concerns about the incinerator, which would burn nuclear and hazardous waste for at least 13 years, said nothing they heard changed their minds.

Olivia Murray, a volunteer for Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, said she thinks people should listen to presentations to gain a better understanding of the incinerator.

Meetings held by that group, which has filed a lawsuit to stop the incinerator, have drawn as many as 400 people.

She still thinks that the scientists and engineers at the INEEL should be able to go back to the drawing board and find another solution besides incineration, even if it takes more time and money.

"You can understand the history and the reasons for doing it," she said. "But common sense at the end of the day tells me there should be an alternative to incineration. Period."