Top Energy Department officials will meet with the governors of Colorado, Idaho and New Mexico this month to discuss ways of disposing of radioactive wastes from weapons facilities.
Waste disposal is one of many problems that have beset the department's nuclear weapons complex, forcing four facilities to partially close and virtually halting the production of atomic arms.Idaho governor Cecil Andrus took credit Tuesday for forcing the issue by blocking his state's borders last month to a rail car loaded with radioactive wastes.
Andrus said Tuesday that because he "turned up the heat," his state was no longer being asked to shoulder the burden and that he would ask federal officials "for concrete evidence they are moving forward" on ways to solve the disposal problem.
"Now we are getting support from sources that might have been content to sit back in the past and let Idaho take the heat," Andrus told reporters in Boise.
Energy Secretary John S. Herrington asked the three governors to meet in Salt Lake City on Nov. 16 with a team headed by his chief deputy, Joseph Salgado, to discuss how to dispose of defense wastes until the department can open its planned Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M.
Andrus and Govs. Roy Romer of Colorado and Garrey Carruthers of New Mexico said they would attend but that the date might shift.
"It's important to New Mexico to get this thing resolved," Carruthers said through spokesman Don Caviness.
Romer said through his press secretary Cindy Parmenter that he would take part, but described the Nov. 16 date as tentative.
The situation became critical last month when Andrus turned away a steel-lined boxcar loaded with low-level radioactive waste. He declared the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory off-limits for further waste storage and said that if Energy Department officials "can't handle the waste, they shouldn't be generating it."
The rail car, loaded with 140 drums each containing 55 gallons of waste, ended up at a siding at the department's Rocky Flats Plant near Denver. The Colorado governor allowed the boxcar to park at Rocky Flats, but asked department officials not to unload it and turned down their request to expand waste storage facilities there.
The government had planned to open the New Mexico facility last month, but was delayed because Congress failed to pass legislation to transfer the land to the Energy Department.