Thursday, December 09, 1999

Wyoming teachers opposes INEEL nuclear waste incinerator

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The Wyoming Education Association has joined the growing opposition in that state to the proposed nuclear waste incinerator at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

Association President Jean Hayek asked Vice President Al Gore in a letter to block the project "for the sake of our children."

"There are just too many unanswered questions about this experimental and untried proposal for disposing of hazardous waste," Hayek wrote in a letter released this week.

Public comment is currently be taken on the environmental permits for the incinerator from Idaho and federal regulators. It is called for as part of Idaho's 1995 court-sanctioned agreement with the federal government that requires plutonium-contaminated waste tainted with other hazardous substances to be processed and then moved to permanent storage at an underground dump in New Mexico.

The $1.2 billion facility will burn off toxic organic material in about 65,000 cubic meters of waste generated during the Cold War production of nuclear bombs. Under the agreement, that waste must be treated and shipped out of Idaho by 2018.

Some Wyoming residents, especially in Jackson, are worried that the incinerator will release toxic substances that will blow eastward into their state. One group, Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free led by prominent attorney Gerry Spence, has gone to federal court in an attempt to block the project.

In response to concerns, the Department of Energy recently opened a temporary office in Jackson to provide information about the incinerator to the public.

Federal officials have insisted that the incinerator will not release significant amounts of harmful particles. Leaving the waste untreated, they contend, poses a far greater threat because of potential future leaks from current storage containers, 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.