12/29/1999

Incinerator opponents seek to expand lawsuit

CHEYENNE (AP) - Opponents of a proposed nuclear waste incinerator in eastern Idaho are seeking to expand their lawsuit to stop the project.

Gerry Spence, a Jackson attorney representing incinerator opponents, said opponents are seeking class action status and damages of more than a $1 billion.

In addition, they are asking to add about 50 additional defendants, including federal Energy Department Secretary Bill Richardson, to the action.

Jackson Hole residents are leading the opposition against the incinerator because they fear the operation will foul their air with cancer-causing chemicals. The incinerator is proposed for the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, which is about 90 miles west of Jackson.

Federal and INEEL officials have said the proposed incinerator would not pose a health risk to surrounding residents.

The new complaint argues that plans for the nuclear waste incinerator would allow burning of about one metric ton of plutonium. That much plutonium "is approximately 166 times the amount of plutonium contained in the atomic bomb which was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, during World War II," the complaint states.

The lawsuit further alleges that the U.S. Department of Energy has an "extremely poor record of managing projects and assuring compliance with important environmental and safety laws," particularly when it deals with hazardous and mixed wastes.

When first filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that DOE broke several laws while approving the incinerator project and failed to adequately notify Wyoming residents who live downwind of the proposed incinerator.

"The plutonium incinerator threatens to dump airborne radioactive and hazardous wastes over Jackson, Wyo., and such national treasures as Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and Jebediah Smith Wilderness Area," the lawsuit states. "Yet, DOE has utterly failed to study the likely impacts upon the people, wildlife and natural resources of the impact areas in Wyoming - as if radioactive particles will simply halt at the state line."

Plaintiffs now claim that damages will exceed $1 billion, according to Spence.

Among the alleged damages are loss of their rights to privacy and bodily integrity "as a result of deadly nuclear contamination," death, medical care, burial expenses and destruction or loss of value of their properties.

The new complaint seeks to add the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and others as plaintiffs to the lawsuit.

Original plaintiffs to the suit are Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, the Environmental Defense Institute, the Snake River Alliance Education Fund and the Sierra Club.