Monday, December 04, 2000

Panel finds alternatives to nuclear waste incineration

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - A panel is wrapping up its examination of alternatives to incinerating nuclear waste at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

Ralph Cavanagh, co-chairman of the Blue Ribbon Panel, said it is clear from a draft of the report that there are a number of alternatives to incineration at the southeastern Idaho laboratory.

He said that is good news for Jackson, where residents worry that incineration of the plutonium-riddled waste would bring toxic air pollution to northwestern Wyoming. The U.S. Department of Energy created the panel following a lawsuit that put a temporary stop to construction of an incinerator.

The laboratory has submitted to the panel more than a dozen technologies that might successfully break down hazardous chemicals in nuclear waste, rather than relying on incineration.

The panel's draft report suggests such alternatives as waste disposal through chemicals, intensely high heat that does not cause burning and microorganisms that would eat the waste.

"In light of the attention that has been focused on the issue, and the likelihood of continued skeptical scrutiny by the public ... even partial success will not be good enough," the draft report said.

While testing the alternatives will cost several million dollars, the draft report said, "the costs of failure are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and more than dollars is at stake."

The panel will hold its last sessions in Jackson on Tuesday and Wednesday. After the meetings, the panel plans to submit its report to Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson.

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. Cavanagh is a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney. ---

On the Net

Blue Ribbon Panel's draft report: