Gov. Cecil Andrus has threatened to fight further shipment of nuclear waste to Idaho if the opening of a federal waste repository in New Mexico is delayed.
Andrus, in a letter to Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., said he opposes versions of a bill delaying the beginning of shipments of transuranic or long-lived radioactive waste from the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., The Post-Register said in a copyrighted story for Sunday's editions."If we are not assured that this nuclear waste will be transferred to storage at the site in New Mexico in a timely fashion, I will take whatever action is necessary to see that no further waste material is brought into the state of Idaho for `temporary' storage when the DOE clearly intends to make us the de facto repository," Andrus wrote.
Richardson sponsored an amendment to the WIPP land bill requiring the Department of Energy to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards at the site before accepting nuclear waste. The land withdrawal bill transfers management responsibility for the property from the Bureau of Land Management to DOE.
The amendment was approved last week by the House Interior Committee. A similar bill was approved in the Senate.
INEL, the federal nuclear research center in eastern Idaho, annually receives and stores 10,000 barrels of transuranic waste. The waste is mainly gloves and tools contaminated with plutonium and other long-lived radioactive elements, from the Rocky Flats weapons plant in Colorado and DOE facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
Small leaks of water into underground salt tunnels at the pilot plant led DOE to limit the amount of stored waste during the first five years of the program. Under a Department of Energy plan, only 6,000 barrels would be sent from INEL to New Mexico the first year, and none the following three years.
"So our already-large storage would be increased by an additional 34,000 drums over the next four years," Andrus wrote Richardson. "I want you and DOE to understand that this is not acceptable. Enough is enough."
The Senate bill would cut shipments the first five years to 3 percent of what was planned, and the Richardson amendment would allow none without EPA approval.
But a Richardson aide said DOE could meet current EPA standards in time to open. "It is our contention that the legislation in itself will not delay the opening," said Stu Nagurka, Richardson's press secretary.
David Jackson, DOE spokesman in Albuquerque, N.M., said if the bills go through Congress as they are, they would set back the WIPP opening, planned for October.
"If all of these restrictions were approved, they could not ship the waste in October," he said.
Another hurdle DOE must clear before shipments can begin is Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval of a shipping cask to transport the waste. Nagurka said delays in testing of the casks have more potential to delay the opening than the legislation.
Tests were to begin two weeks ago, but are now scheduled to begin Wednesday, Jackson said. The test delay should not delay the WIPP opening, but he stressed that scheduling was not the driving force in the test program.
"We have to make sure we can get the information we want and need," he said.
Andrus said Friday he would not be unreasonable if DOE showed it had a scientific or technical reason to delay or halt the opening of WIPP.
"But we've had enough broken promises," Andrus said. "If they don't resolve where this waste can be sent - to Carlsbad or elsewhere - we're going to stop being good citizens."
The waste has been piling up at the INEL since 1952.
Noting that Idaho has also accepted debris from the ill-fated Three Mile Island reactor for temporary storage, Andrus said the state has done more than its part to help DOE and the nation deal with nuclear problems. But now other states must share the burden.
"They get the projects and the payrolls and we get the garbage," he said.
Don Ofte, INEL manager, said DOE also wants the transuranic waste shipments to begin as scheduled, so it can fully utilize the $700 million WIPP facility.
"We appreciate the governor's position and feel that it is in agreement with our own goals," Ofte said.