Radioactive wastes from nuclear weapons facilities in Idaho and Washington would roll through northern Utah en route to a permanent storage site in New Mexico, under a Department of Energy plan.
Hearings on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) are scheduled for late May and early June in Boise; Denver; Atlanta; Albuquerque; Pendleton, Ore.; and Santa Fe, N.M.The WIPP storage site is nearing completion in southeastern New Mexico's Eddy County, 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad. About 5.7 million cubic feet of waste would be secured 2,150 feet below ground level.
The transuranic waste includes radioactive material from nuclear weapons production, as well as many other hazardous substances. Gloves and tools contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive elements would also be included.
Planners once wanted to include exceptionally dangerous material; however, the new environmental report says, "Experiments using high-level wastes are no longer proposed for the WIPP."
Proposed truck routes through Utah to the repository are along I-84 from the Idaho border, then along I-80 east into Wyoming. A second route would follow I-15 south from Idaho and link with I-80. A portion of I-15, near Tremonton, Box Elder County, remains unfinished. Construction is not finished on the I-15 link.
Nationwide truck accident rates are about one accident for every 570,000 miles driven. Based on that, the report expects three fatalities and 34 injuries from accidents over the 25 years that the project would operate.
Radiation was not expected to be a serious health hazard even with the most extreme accident projected, because of careful packaging.
An option to use railroads is also studied in the report. Although that is not the method DOE wants to use presently, it may be adopted someday, a new draft environmental statement indicates. The rail routes apparently would haul the wastes around Utah's border without entering the state.
The DOE plans to operate a test program for five years, to see whether the site should become a permanent repository. If so, it would then operate for 20 more years.
A draft environmental impact statement distributed by the DOE is a supplement to studies completed in 1980. At that time, the government envisioned shipments from only the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, near Idaho Falls, Idaho, and the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver.
The project is now planned to include waste from the Savannah River Power Plant in Aiken, S.C., and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a 580-square-mile experimental facility near Richland, Wash., in the south-central part of that state.
In addition, six other federal facilities may eventually add their wastes: the Nevada Test Site near Las Vegas, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Colorado, the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, the Mound Nuclear Materials Operations at Miamisburg, Ohio, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory near Knoxville, Tenn.
DOE officials had planned to begin putting contaminated waste into the WIPP facility in October, 1988, relying on the 1980 studies. But government consultants and documents presented at a congressional hearing in September indicated it could not operate it safely.
Since then, the additional studies were performed on the $700 million project.
The DOE is under heavy pressure to open the WIPP facility soon. Last July, Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus threatened to fight further shipments of transuranic waste to the Engineering Laboratory if the WIPP repository's opening was delayed. The Idaho laboratory receives 10,000 barrels of transuranic waste yearly.