Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Alliance blasts comments on incinerator; DOE claims misunderstanding

HAILEY, Idaho (AP) - The Snake River Alliance on Monday blasted top officials at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory for indicating that a controversial radioactive waste incinerator has only been delayed, not scrapped.

Alliance President David Kipping of Hailey accused Deputy INEEL Manager Warren Bergholz and Bernie Meyers of Bechtel BWXT, which runs the site, of ignoring any recommendations from a special scientific panel charged with assessing alternatives even before the panel is appointed.

"I thought the era of arrogance and gross contempt for the public was behind us," Kipping said.

But Beverly Cook, who heads Energy Department Idaho Operations Office, said last week's comments by Bergholz and Meyers left a false impression.

Bergholz said alternatives to incineration would be evaluated by the panel that Energy Secretary Bill Richardson promised to appoint three weeks ago when he agreed to put construction of the incinerator on hold to settle legal challenges lodged by activists in western Wyoming.

But Bergholz also said that for a number of reasons incineration appears to be the only viable method of processing at least some of the plutonium-contaminated waste stored at INEEL because it is tainted with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. He said incineration is the only permitted method for disposing of PCBs.

Kipping called the statement evidence that the government had prejudged the results of the special panel. Cook rejected that characterization.

"While no viable alternatives have been identified to date, the Idaho Operations Office will not prejudge the work of the panel or the outcome of its deliberations," she said.

"It is regrettable that an isolated statement from one officials from this office may have given the false impression that the panel's deliberations and conclusions could in any way be predetermined," Cook said in a statement.

Kipping countered that last week's comments cast doubt on any government objectivity in finding an alternative to incineration.

Bergholz said the settlement was agreed to so that construction of other waste processing facilities could still met deadlines in the court-enforced 1995 waste cleanup agreement between the state and federal governments.

Since the bulk of plutonium-contaminated waste at INEEL can be handled without incineration, he said delaying the incinerator was logical.

The treatment plant is to begin operating by April 2003, processing most of the estimated 65,000 cubic meters of long-lived, low-level waste so it can be moved out of Idaho by 2019. That facility will simply crush and repackage waste for shipment to the federal dump in New Mexico.