A draft environmental impact statement released by the Energy Department last week maintains the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory as one of three potential sites for a new weapons production reactor.

The 2,100-page assessment addresses potential environmental, health and safety impacts of the three technologies being considered for the new production reactor, which would produce tritium for nuclear bombs. The assessment covers locating the facility in eastern Idaho as well as at Hanford, Wash., and the Savannah River site in South Carolina.It outlines potential environmental impacts of each technology at each site and describes possible methods of countering them. Among the concerns at the INEL, which sits atop one of the nation's largest freshwater aquifers, was protecting water quality.

The draft said the reactor designs would incorporate the latest safety features that will meet or exceed those of commercial nuclear reactors while using new policies to minimize waste so that the new facility will have a lower environmental impact than the Savannah River plant it is intended to replace.

"The new production reactor will be built to the highest and most modern safety standards in the nuclear industry," Energy Secretary James Watkins said in releasing the assessment. "As we build and operate it, I am committed to protecting the environment beginning with the first shovel of dirt."

But as the document was being released in Washington, opponents of the project were at the state Capitol in Boise declaring their commitment to block further financial support for the reactor.

While Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus has repeatedly said he opposes turning the INEL into a bomb factory, he has endorsed the new production reactor project because of the scientific and technological spinoffs it would provide.

Snake River Alliance activist Liz Paul maintained the government has failed to properly assess the impact of waste generation in keeping the INEL in the running for the project. Millions of cubic feet of low-level, long-lasting radioactive waste is already stored above and below ground at the INEL, and the federal government has yet to make good on its pledge to move that waste to a permanent disposal facility.

Seventeen members of the alliance were going to Washington, D.C., on Sunday to lobby Congress to reject further financing for the project.