States seek control of atomic waste sites

The nation's governors are heading toward agreement Aug. 5 on a recommendation that states themselves -- not the federal government -- assume responsibility for the disposal of low-level nuclear waste.

At the annual summer meeting of the National Governors Association in Denver, a task force on low-level radioactive waste has proposed that states should negotiate cooperatively to select from six to eight regional disposal sites for low-level radioactive wastes, which consists mostly of refuse from nuclear power plants.

They also voted for congressional approval of financial "incentives" to such states to promote a rapid solution to the nation's low-level waste disposal crisis.

Projections show the United States is expected to generate 321,000 cubic meters of low-level waste by 1990 compared with 99,000 cubic meters in 1980.

Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona, chairman of the task force, says the three governors with the only low-level waste disposal sites in their states "want to spread the burden."

Currently, dumping sites at Barnwell, S.C., Beatty, Nev., and Hanford, Wash., serve the entire nation. And Gov. Robert F. List of Nevada said Monday his state's site could be closed by September. The Hanford site is expected to be closed within four years.

South Carolina Gov. Dick Riley has drastically reduced the amount of waste permitted to come to Barnwell, which annually receives over 75 percent of the natin's commercial wastes.

These actions, coupled with the increasing volume of waste generated by medical military, and industrial activities led to the formation of a task force by the association in December 1979.

The task force report spells out a process for the development of regions, selection of sites, further research, and roles for state and local governments, the federal government, and private industry.

Each state, according to the recommendations, should accept primary responsibility for the safe disposal of low-level radioactive waste, except for waste generated at federal government facilities.

"Unlike high-level waste, the problem is not so technologically complex that it requires the leadership of the federal government," the task force report says.

A regional approach is favored in the report because, with the exception of a few of the biggest waste-generating states, the volume of waste generated in a single state is too small to make operation of a disposal site economical. Each state would have veto power to reject the establishment of a regional site on its territory.

The report suggests that Congress authorize the states to enter into interstate compacts to establish regional disposal sites. "Such authorization should include the power to exclude waste generated outside the region from the disposal sites," the report states.

Governor Babbitt said his committee will oppose legislation introduced by Rep. Mike McCormack of Washington that would give the Department of Energy exclusive authority to pick out future dumping sites.

He says the move for governors to work together on this issue is "a very healthy return to more vigorous state government. Instead of running to Washington, we want to work it out ourselves."

Governors from Pennsylvania, Nevada, Washington, South Carolina, Arkansas, Idaho, and Illinois also served on the task force.

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