WASHINGTON — Congressmen from New Mexico and Idaho introduced legislation last week to pave the way for the opening of the nation's first permanent nuclear waste repository. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Joe Skeen (R) of New Mexico and Richard Stallings (D) of Idaho, also was designed in part to avert the forced shutdown of a plutonium processing plant in Colorado that is a vital link in the nationwide nuclear weapons complex.
The legislation would authorize the transfer of more than 10,000 acres of federal lands in southern New Mexico to the jurisdiction to the Department of Energy. It also authorizes payments of $250 million to New Mexico for costs related to building the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
The repository is being mined from salt beds deep beneath the New Mexico desert and was to open last October. It developed water leaks, and the Energy Department has not set a new date for opening the site.
The delay in opening the repository has caused a major problem for the states of Idaho and Colorado. Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus late last year barred the shipment of wastes from Colorado's Rocky Flats plutonium processing plant to temporary disposal sites in his state.
Colorado, in turn, has said it will close the Rocky Flats plant in May unless a new waste storage site is found for the contaminated materials that are building up at Rocky Flats, just outside Denver.
Governor Andrus has said he would reconsider his barring of waste shipments to Idaho if legislation were introduced to speed the opening of the New Mexico repository.
``This was the last piece of the puzzle,'' Congressman Stallings said. He added, however, that he was not sure Andrus was ready to reconsider the ban.