Tuesday, January 19, 1999

Nuclear storage facilty could create 3,000 jobs, study shows

By ROBERT W. BLACK
Associated Press Writer

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A temporary nuclear waste storage facility is not what Wyoming needs, despite its promise of jobs and revenue, said Gov. Jim Geringer.

A proposed Owl Creek Energy Project could create up to 3,000 jobs at peak operation and generate nearly $2 billion in local income, according to a study of the project.

The study, prepared by University of Wyoming economics professor Shelby Gerking, also predicts the project would contribute up to $20 million annually to the state.

The facility would be located on 2,700 acres near Shoshoni on the Fremont-Natrona county line. It would close after 40 years.

Despite the economic impact, Geringer said he is opposed to the plan.

"My stance is rather connected on the front end of natural resource development, not the back end," he said. "Why deal with garbage when you should be dealing with overall development?"

By law, the Legislature must approve construction of any high-level radioactive waste storage facility. That cannot happen unless Congress approves Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a site for permanent nuclear waste storage, according to statute.

Geringer said he doubts any measure will ever cross his desk.

"I worked with nuclear weapons for a long time," he said. "You can effectively handle nuclear materials and spent storage. That's not the point. The point is what do we want to be known for? Wyoming does not want to be known as a nuclear waste repository, pure and simple."

Stephanie Kessler, project manager for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, also opposes the project. The council advocates protection and enhancement of the state's natural resources.

Transporting spent fuel rods safely and funding emergency response teams have not been adequately addressed, she said.

"The industry refuses to commit itself to using dedicated trains for shipments of high-level radioactive waste," she said. "It has a much higher transportation accident risk than trucks."

Also, no federal money exists to help states with emergency response efforts for private projects, she said.

Construction of the project would create 605 jobs and generate $23.2 million in local income, the study said.

During peak operations between 2005 and 2017, up to $78 million annually would be generated and 2,784 jobs created, the study said.

The study assumes the facility would be permitted to store 40,000 metric tons of used or spent nuclear fuel from U.S. electricity plants.

If permitted capacity is less than 40,000 metric tons, economic benefits would be scaled back in roughly the same proportion, Gerking said.

Some of the storage containers for the spent fuel could be built in Casper, he said.

Restoring the site after it closes would create $34.4 million in income and 376 jobs, he said.

Opponents have often cited negative impacts on tourism, but project chairman Robert Anderson said those fears are unfounded and pointed to the Virginia Power Surrey Station, a similar facility located near historic Williamsburg, the Jamestown settlement, a theme park and several professional golf courses.

"There has not been a demonstrable negative effect of any kind within the context of the tourism industry," he said.

Gerking's study did not assess possible tourism impacts.

Anderson said he and project supporters are not daunted by Wyoming's stringent law or any possible public sentiment against the project.

"I have to be an optimist," he said. "There are hurdles as any large industrial project faces. There are things in our statutes that create practical business issues for us to deal with."

Anderson said he has been talking about safety issues for the last year and "now with this report we'll start mixing the two of them (safety and benefits) together. That's part of the education program."

"We will be able to show that this is safe, clean and a way to benefit all the state," he said.

The Department of Energy plans to make a recommendation to the president in July 2001 on whether the Yucca Mountain site can safely store nuclear spent fuel.

If that hurdle is cleared, the department will seek a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March 2002. If approved, the repository would not be ready to receive spent fuel from the nation's nuclear power plants until at least 2010.

Gerking said he does not support or oppose the project.

"I've tried to paint an accurate picture," he said. "A conservative, yet realistic portrayal" of the economic impact.