High-level waste hearings begin this week

Monday, February 07, 2000

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory must decide this year how to dispose of highly radioactive waste buried in tanks above the state's water supply.

This week, the public gets its chance to shape decisions that will dictate what kinds of treatment plants are built and what risks they will be asked to live with for at least 35 years. Treating the waste from 50 years of reprocessing nuclear fuel, which is so radioactive it could give a person a lethal dose within hours, will also be one of the biggest cleanup jobs at the INEEL during this century.

"These are some of the higher-risk materials out there," said Kathleen Trever, director of Idaho's INEEL oversight program. "In terms of having to make a difficult decision with no clear answer, we have to balance risk to everybody."

At least half of the treatment options would give off radioactive air pollution. Because of concerns from Wyoming citizens about a proposed incinerator that would burn less dangerous waste, public hearings will be held there for the first time.

The INEEL must also decide how to dismantle those highly contaminated facilities after the waste has been treated.

The Department of Energy has outlined nine separate options for treating the high-level waste, which contains carcinogenic chemicals as well as radionuclides that are either highly radioactive or long-lived.

About 1.4 million gallons of liquid waste remain in underground tanks. There is also 147,000 cubic feet of calcined waste stored in steel bins. That waste has been converted into a dry powder.

Nearly all of the treatment options would require building new plants to convert the waste into glass, ceramic or concrete forms so it might be shipped to a permanent dump someday.