Thursday, February 10, 2000

Critics concerned about handling of radioactive waste at INEEL

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - Western Wyoming residents are continuing to raise questions about plans to process radioactive waste now being temporarily stored on eastern Idaho's high desert.

Tom Patricelli of Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, which is suing to block a $1.2 billion incinerator proposed for handling some plutonium-contaminated waste at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, reiterated the chant against any technology that could release toxins in the air.

"We are very concerned about how this waste will be dealt with," Patricelli said. "We support DOE and Idaho's desire to dispose of waste, however safety should be of the utmost concern."

He was among 100 people who turned out this week to comment on the draft environmental analysis of the proposal for processing 4,200 cubic meters of material and 1.4 million gallons of liquid generated from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel between 1952 and 1991 to recover enriched uranium.

Some claimed they did not have enough time to respond to the draft findings that were issued only two weeks ago. But no one directly objected to any of the alternatives included in the analysis.

"We need to get the waste out of Idaho," Melissa Road of Jackson said.

Under Idaho's 1995 court-enforced agreement with the federal government, the liquid waste must be turned into a more manageable solid material by 2012 and it must be removed from the INEEL - along with nearly all other radioactive waste now temporarily stored there - by 2036.

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.

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

At least half of them would give off radioactive air pollution, critics warn. Because of western Wyoming's concern about fallout from the planned incinerator for pultonium-contaminated waste, federal officials offered them a chance to publicly comment on the entire waste handling plan.

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 be one of the biggest cleanup jobs at the INEEL in the coming decades.

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

Federal officials have said some of the proposed processing techniques, including one that would solidify the waste into a glass form, lack sufficient research to support their effectiveness and feasibility.

Neither the state of Idaho nor the Department of Energy has a preference for processing the waste.