Idaho State Journal
Threat or remedy?
will the public perceive a nuclear waste incinerator to be built at
Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series outlining the
Department of Energy's mission to rid the Idaho National Engineering and
Environmental Laboratory of much of its toxic waste. The next installment
will appear a week from today.
By Anne Minard
POCATELLO - Berte Hischfield sees it as a threat to human and
Ann Riedesel believes it's a way to remedy part
of the hazard.
Contractors may successfully complete a $1.2 billion
waste incinerator at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental
Laboratory north of Pocatello - work is slated to begin as soon as permits
are finished in as little as 60 days, officials say.
relations work will likely carry on for quite some time.
Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, for instance, is just one of a vocal group
based in Jackson, Wyo., that opposes construction of the incinerator. They
believe it poses great environmental risks even that far
Proponents are just as adamant that the facility, to be built for
INEEL by British Nuclear Fuels Ldt. Inc., represents new heights in
technology and will successfully help rid the region of
plutonium-contaminated wastes that have for years put the environment at
A public comment period on the nuclear waste incinerator closed
two weeks ago. Federal permit writers still have to respond to that input,
revise permits, if necessary, then finalize the documents.
BNFL business communications specialist, says construction was slated to
begin in March, but will start as soon as the permit is issued. Completion
of the project is expected in 2003.
The facility is designed to
incinerate waste shipped to INEEL when Rocky Flats, a Colorado Department
of Energy site making plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons, shut down.
Boxes and barrels currently stored at INEEL hold plutonium-contaminated
workmens' clothing, gloves, and industrial cleanup sludge from the closure
of that site.
Some January public meetings about the construction
permit got heated, especially in Jackson, where about 800 people showed up
for the event. And it was the group from Jackson that published full-page
advertisements in local papers urging area residents and farmers to help
stop the project.
Opponents express several concerns about the project;
proponents are ready to reply:
n The waste to be incinerated is now
stored above ground in buildings at the INEEL, but waste delivered years
ago to the site is buried underground. Some environmental groups, like the
Idaho-based Snake River Conservation Alliance, believe cleanup funds are
being misallocated and should be spent first on the more dangerous,
Riedesel says those fears are unfounded. Projects
to treat both the buried waste and the above-ground waste are fully
funded, she says.
"It's not like one is getting shortchanged for the
n Jackson-area residents are afraid that particulate emissions
from the incinerator will be blown toward the Jackson area. They've also
warned southeast Idaho potato growers that their farm ground could be
But David Phelps, a technician at the National Weather
Service, says the prevailing wind direction in southeastern Idaho is
southwest - that means winds come from California, the southwest, and blow
toward the northeast.
And Riedesel denies that emissions, regardless of
where they are blown, are a concern.
"We are containing the activity,"
This incinerator will be the first to employ "extensive
redundancy" meaning emissions will be routed repeatedly through filtration
systems, and is designed to exceed new, tougher federal standards for
Extensive monitoring systems are planned for the
facilities, and an automatic shutoff will ensure that, should emissions
approach a tenth of the federally-mandated limits, materials will cease to
be fed into the process while filtration will continue. The system is
designed never to vent directly into the air, Riedesel says.
question the reliability of contractor BNFL, Inc., based on their
performance record abroad. Activists at the Jackson meeting called the
company's history "heinous" and "devastating," alleging that unscrupulous
business practices got the company into trouble in Japan and Switzerland,
among other places.
Riedesel says the criticism stems from an incident
in the United Kingdom, where three quality-control workers were caught
falsifying inspection data for Mox Fuel pellets that British Nuclear Fuels
Limited was producing.
The workers, Riedesel says, were copying data
from previous inspections to avoid work they thought was "tedious." Those
workers were fired, and the investigation is ongoing. Riedesel says the
incident "concerned us a great deal," and the company is taking steps to
make sure other workers don't engage in dishonest record-keeping.
Minard covers the environment and INEEL for the Journal. She can be
reached at 239-3168 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org