The Washington Times
Friday, June 30, 1989 A5

3 governors take take hard line on accepting nuclear waste

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) Three Western governors at odds with Washington over disposal of nuclear waste in their states are standing firm, despite assurances from Energy Secretary James Watkins that the government is serious about safety.

New Mexico Gov. Garrey Carruthers said his state won't accept any radioactive waste until the Department of Energy meets all commitments to the state.

Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus said Idaho won't take any more shipments after August.

And Colorado Gov. Roy Romer said he will shut down the beleaguered Rocky Flats weapons plant when it reaches its storage capacity.

During a meeting with the governors on Wednesday, Mr. Watkins said the plutonium-waste storage facility built a third of a mile underground near here won't open until the government shows it can safely transport and bury nuclear waste.

The department's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is designed for permanent storage of radioactive waste created by military projects. The waste would be kept 2,150 feet below ground in ancient salt beds 26 miles southeast of here.

"We will open WIPP, but we will open it when it's ready" Mr. Watkins said.

The WIPP was supposed to open last October, but questions about the long-term safety of the salt beds and the transportation of the wastes have delayed the opening. Mr. Watkins has said he expects to open the plant next year but has not given a target date.

With Rocky Flats expected to run out of storage space by early next year, and the three Western governors remaining firm, the government could find itself without a place to store nuclear waste—a stalemate that federal officials said could endanger maintenance of the nation's nuclear arsenal.

"The president asked me to come into this job to clean up the mess dealing with the production reactors, the waste facilities, so this nation can stand tall again on the peace-through-strength concept! which WIPP is all about" Mr. Watkins said.

He said he couldn't speculate on where waste would be stored If Rocky Flats became filled. But he said it is unlikely Idaho, Colorado or New Mexico would be used for any type of interim storage facility.

After the meeting, the governors said they were pleased with Mr. Watkins' take-charge attitude.

"There is a new breeze blowing across Eddy County and across the United States with respect to the Department of Energy," Mr. Carruthers said. "I like the fact the secretary has committed to us that he will operate at his pace—a pace that he determines is safe."

But none of the governors was willing to budge on accepting more waste.

Mr. Andrus said Idaho, as planned, will accept four boxcars of waste from Rocky Flats in August and then close its border. "Idaho's position is not going to change," he said.

Mr. Romer said Rocky Flats may not expand its storage capacity, "and when we reach the limit, we will close Rocky Flats."

Mr. Carruthers said federal commitments on compensation for road improvements and assurances on safety and environmental protection must be met. "The state of New Mexico believes WIPP is not yet ready to accept waste, and we will resist all efforts to open until such time as DOE commitments to New Mexico are met."

A federal judge Wednesday ordered a special grand jury investigation into alleged criminal wrongdoing in the handling of hazardous and radioactive wastes at Rocky Flats.