Tuesday, June 27, 2000

Idaho group nominates expert for incineration alternative panel

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - After Wyoming environmental critics refused to participate, Idaho opponents of a proposed incinerator to process plutonium-contaminated waste temporarily stored in eastern Idaho have nominated their own independent scientific expert to the government panel assessing alternatives.

The Snake River Alliance has recommended that Marvin Resnikoff, a senior associate and principal manager at Radioactive Waste Management Associates, to the final seat on the nine-member Blue Ribbon Panel created by the Energy Department to determine whether there are alternatives to incineration for processing the waste now stored at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

Wyoming interests that went to court to block the incinerator objected to the panel's make-up, contending that it is not qualified to uncover alternatives. The panel was part of a settlement the government cut with those groups so it could proceed with other waste processing facilities.

The panel met for the first time last week and will hold its first session in eastern Idaho on Aug. 22.

The Energy Department agreed to delay work on the incinerator so it could proceed with other facilities needed to meet waste processing and removal deadlines under a 1995 court-enforced nuclear waste agreement it made with the state of Idaho.

Federal officials have already conceded that they will probably not meet the April 2003 deadline for having any processing facilities in operation, subjecting them prohibitions against moving other waste into Idaho for temporary storage. That would disrupt waste storage operations nationwide, officials have acknowledged. The 2019 deadline for removing the estimated 65,000 cubic meters of waste from the INEEL is not in jeopardy, they say.

While the composition of the Blue Ribbon Panel has aggravated Wyoming critics of the incinerator, they have been more angered by statements shortly after the incinerator project was sidetracked that it will likely be revived once the assessment of alternatives is completed.

The Energy Department's top officials in Idaho said that statement was misinterpreted. But Beverly Cook conceded that there is currently no alternative to incineration for processing about 5 percent of the waste in question.

The panel is co-chaired by Mario Molina, the 1995 winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his theory that fluorocarbons deplete the ozone layer, and Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Ralph Cavanagh.