Senate passes Crapo amendment to boost nuclear cleanup

By Megan Scully
States News Service

WASHINGTON -- In its whirlwind of budget votes this week, the Senate passed an amendment penned by Sen. Mike Crapo to boost spending for nuclear waste cleanup, potentially saving hundreds of jobs at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

The amendment, which must be considered by the House, would increase by $1 billion the funding for the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Management program proposed in President Bush's budget blueprint.

If passed in the House, Crapo's amendment would bring federal spending for nuclear waste cleanup to $6.6 billion, raising INEEL's own budget 10 percent from last year's figures.

Increased funding for the laboratory could be key to the future of the INEEL cleanup, which has looked shaky in recent months. According to Associated Press reports, INEEL exceeded this year's budget by $37 million when it tried to meet a deadline to ship nuclear waste out of the state. As many as 370 jobs could still hang in the balance.

"The proposed budget jeopardized the Department of Energy's ability to meet their milestones," Crapo, R-Idaho, said. "This amendment ensures that the DOE can meet its milestones in Idaho."

In 1995, the federal government gave INEEL a court-ordered removal all of its buried waste by 2018. If its budget gets slashed, Idaho's congressional delegation has argued, the laboratory would be faced with an unfunded mandate.

"The federal government must take responsibility for its legally binding agreements to bring federal facilities into compliance with environmental laws," Crapo said. "This funding increase ... is appropriate because it makes certain the government complies with its promise to clean up these sites."

A congressional report released last year said INEEL would not meet its 2003 deadline for operating a plutonium-contaminated-waste treatment plant. The laboratory is also falling behind schedule on removal of 15,000 barrels of that contaminated waste from Idaho by the end of 2002.

The cleanup program is responsible for storing, treating or eliminating contaminated groundwater, soil, debris, nuclear fuel and liquid waste from more than 100 sites around the country.