Feds permanently shut down incinerator after state issues order

Thursday, October 05, 2000

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - The Energy Department permanently shut down an incinerator for low-level radioactive waste in eastern Idaho on Tuesday after state regulators gave the government 30 days to do so.

The Waste Experimental Reduction Facility had been temporarily shut down since an operational problem was discovered two weeks ago after a range fire threatened, but did not damage, the facility.

The state Department of Environmental Quality issued an order on Tuesday requiring the incinerator to be permanently shut down by Nov. 2 for failure to provide the information needed for the air quality permit required to continue operating the plant.

The state had announced last summer that the permit would not be issued because the federal government refused to spend the $6.1 million needed to meet new federal standards for removal of mercury, acid gases and cancer-causing emissions like dioxins when contaminated waste like clothing, paper and plastic is burned.

But under the earlier operating permit issued before the new standards, the facility could have operated into 2002 although the Energy Department had planned to shut it down next spring. That changed on Tuesday.

"We're placing in cold standby immediately," Energy Department spokesman Brad Bugger said. "We'll have to look for alternative technologies for the waste because we still have mixed waste that has to be treated."

The government must comply with a treatment plan it negotiated with the state under congressional direction following the nuclear waste deal former Gov. Phil Batt cut in 1995.

The prospect that the incinerator would have continued operating under the interim permit issued when it was built in 1985 had angered environmentalists, who notified the INEEL that it would sue to shut it down if the government kept it running.

On Tuesday, one Idaho environmental group applauded the shut down and took partial credit for the action.

"Everyone should appreciate that the WERF shut down is happening not from the DOE or IDEQ's concern for public health but from a notice of intent to sue from the Environmental Defense Institute, Jackson, Wyo.-based Keep Yellowstone Free, and David McCoy," the Environmental Defense Institute said in a prepared statement.