The Times News Magic Valley Newspapers Inc.

85th year, No. 30
Twin Falls, Idaho
Tuesday, January 30, 1990

Federal budget kills SIS

No construction money listed for Idaho project

By The Times-News and Associated Press

IDAHO FALLS - As expected, President Bush's $1.2 trillion 1991 budget contains no construction money for a proposed Idaho plutonium refinery.

"President Bush's decision not to include any construction money for the SIS project in his 1991 budget completes the final chapter of the SIS story and, as far as I can see, kills the project," Idaho Rep. Richard Stallings said.

But the budget does include $363 million for a New Production Reactor that would produce tritium.

While NPR received a big increase in the 1991 budget plan Energy Secretary James Watkins said budget concerns have put SIS construction on hold.

Watkins said he proposes to close out SIS construction activities starting April 1.

"In light of the other sources of plutonium currently available and current funding priorities of the department, construction of additional capability to produce plutonium ... does not appear warranted," Watkins said Monday in a letter to Stallings.

The Idaho environmental group Snake River Alliance responded to the budget with mixed emotions.

"Four hundred million dollars already been wasted on this program which the Department of Energy has never been able to justify and the administration is right in canceling it," the group said Monday in a press release.

"This is a victory for the Snake River Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the many others who have worked for over three years to stop this program "

Originally the Energy Department had planned to begin SIS site preparation work in Idaho this year, in hopes of beginning production in 1995.

Watkins said he will propose tabling plutonium tests at the Engineering Demonstration System, a model of the SIS laser located at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Watkins, however, said he wants SIS research to be completed "in an orderly fashion."

The Energy Department spending plan includes $66.5 million for SIS research at Livermore, even though there are no plans for plutonium tests in 1991, Jones said.

"Orderly completion of the SIS program, with the exception of Plutonium testing, will provide A sufficient technical basis for a plutonium supply option should it be required in the future," Watkins said.

In addition, this research will allow the Energy Department to study new uses of SIS laser technology, such as waste minimization. The National Academy of Sciences is studying alternative uses of SIS technology; its findings are expected in 1991.

The $66.5 million SIS research request is a far cry from a year ago when the WE requested $198 million for research and construction. Congress pared that figure to $123 million, reducing construction funds to $4O million.

But the Snake River Alliance was not happy about the $363 million n the budget for the NPR project

"There is no justified need for new tritium production capacity," the group said. "Today's tritium supplies are sufficient to provide a nuclear deterrent for fifty years."

The Bush budget included more than $221 million for the NPR's construction account, almost $133 million for operations and $8.3 million to prepare an Environmental impact statement. Tritium is used in the triggers of atomic weapons.

The 1991 NPR budget is about $60 million over the previous amount. Congress fully funded the 1990 NPR project request of $303.5 million.

The Department of Energy proposes building two NPR's, including one unit at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory and the second in South Carolina. Tritium has a short half-life, or time before it decays.

The Snake River Alliance also criticized the budget's cleanup money. The budget "does not eves cover 1991 cost projections of the Department of Energy's own Five year Cleanup Plan," the Alliance press release said.

"It is clear that the administration is still putting higher priority on nuclear weapons production than on protection of the American people from toxic and nuclear pollution." the release said.

The Energy Department budget proposal includes $294 million for nuclear waste disposal at all department sites. No breakdown was available for INEL cleanup.