DOE Drops Plan to Burn Nuke Waste

March 29, 2000
DOE has put on hold plans to build a nuclear waste incinerator 100 miles upwind from the scenic Tetons and Yellowstone National Park.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has put on hold plans to build a nuclear waste incinerator 100 miles upwind from the scenic Tetons and Yellowstone National Park.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on Monday confirmed a settlement with environmental groups that sued over the plan.

"Idaho and neighboring states have lived for many years with this waste stored near some of our nation's most precious treasures," said Richardson. "Our action today allows us to continue to work with local and state officials to determine the best way to treat and dispose of this waste in an environmentally sound manner."

Critics feared the toxic particles would have drifted into Wyoming and laced the land and water with PCBs and radiation.

At the core of the controversy is 130,000 cubic yards of waste at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory near Idaho Falls.

Half of the waste is supposed to go to an underground facility outside Carlsbad, N.M., the nation's only long-term storage site for radioactive waste.

DOE contracted with British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. to build a facility at the site that will compact up to 90 percent of the storage-bound waste and an incinerator to burn the rest.

Burning was to be used for waste too laden with PCBs for storage or containing materials too dangerous to ship.

Opponents of the plan said the government planned to allow the burning of waste that contains about one metric ton of plutonium.

DOE officials hope to begin construction of the treatment plant -- without an incinerator -- as early as this May. The cost of building the advanced mixed waste treatment facility is expected to exceed $500 million and be operational by March 2003.

Richardson said he also agreed to commission a panel to study technological alternatives to burning nuclear waste nationwide.

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