Wyoming Geringer reiterates opposition to incinerator

Tuesday, November 23, 1999

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Gov. Jim Geringer reiterated his opposition to a proposed nuclear waste incinerator in eastern Idaho, calling on the federal government to handle the material without "burning it upwind of Wyoming."

The Wyoming chief executive said he believes the Energy Department wants to turn the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory into a central waste disposal facility by bringing in waste from elsewhere for processing. He called that unacceptable.

But while the incinerator could be used to process waste now stored at other locations, a 1995 court-sanctioned agreement between Idaho and the federal government requires waste brought in from outside Idaho to be treated within six months of arrival and be shipped back out of Idaho within six months of treatment.

That agreement, which requires the $1.2 billion facility to be in operation by April 2003, subjects the federal government to a court-monitored schedule for cleaning up the tons of radioactive material temporarily stored at INEEL and removing it by 2036.

The incinerator, which received federal and state environmental permits earlier this month subject to public comment, will burn off toxic organic material in about 65,000 cubic meters of plutonium-contaminated waste tainted with other hazardous substances. That waste, remnants of the nation's nuclear bomb production, must be treated and shipped out of Idaho by 2018.

But a group of Jackson Hole, Wyo., residents, led by flamboyant attorney Gerry Spence, have challenged the incinerator in federal court, claiming the project was set up in violation of laws requiring evaluation of alternatives and environmental studies.

Geringer made clear that his beef was with the federal government and not fellow Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

"We want to help our neighbors deal with a problem that they didn't create," he said, pledging to continue pressing the Energy Department to "ensure that the concerns of Wyoming citizens are heard and to assure that our Wyoming environmental integrity is maintained."

Idaho and federal environmental regulators have both said the facility poses no public health or environmental threat although they have subjected their draft operating permits to an extended public comment and hearing schedule.

Leaving the waste untreated, they contend, poses a far greater threat because of potential future leaks from current storage facilities, which are over the Snake River Plain Aquifer.

And even air quality officials in Wyoming have said a municipal waste incinerator operating south of Jackson poses a greater health threat than the INEEL facility would, although that conclusion has been hotly disputed.