OREGON LEGISLATORS TO UNVEIL BILL TO PROHIBIT NUCLEAR WASTE IMPORTS

OREGON LEGISLATORS TO UNVEIL BILL TO PROHIBIT NUCLEAR WASTE IMPORTS

Two Oregon congressman are drafting legislation designed to derail a Department of Energy storage plan that lists 10 U.S. ports as potential entry points for the return of highly radioactive nuclear waste from foreign reactors.

Reps. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Jim Bunn, a Republican, will unveil the measure today in Portland, Ore. It will be introduced formally after Congress returns from its August recess.Ports across the country, from Tacoma, Wash., to Jacksonville, Fla., have blasted their inclusion in the DOE's draft environmental impact statement on spent fuel, which outlines a management and storage plan over the next 13 years for 42,000 pounds of spent fuel containing highly enriched uranium from small research reactors around the world.

The retrieval plan is part of the nation's nonproliferation policy, which seeks to keep the weapons-grade uranium that can be extracted from the spent fuel out of the wrong hands.

The Port of Tacoma and its labor force said they will refuse to handle any of the spent fuel that comes their way, and other ports have taken a similar position about the situation.

Besides Tacoma, potential entry ports under consideration by the DOE include Charleston, S.C.; Galveston, Texas; Jacksonville, Fla.; Hampton Roads, Va.; the Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point, N.C.; the Naval Weapons Station at Concord, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; Savannah, Ga.; and Wilmington, N.C.

"We're not going to let Oregon become a gateway for the whole world's radioactive waste," Rep. Bunn said. He said he expects Congress to work on a bipartisan basis "to ensure that this crazy proposal by the Department of Energy is defeated."

"It makes no sense for DOE to import spent nuclear fuel from foreign countries when the United States has not determined how to manage the spent nuclear fuel generated in this country," Rep. Wyden said.

The bill would prohibit U.S. imports of nuclear waste unless licensed facilities are in operation that have the capacity to store or dispose of all nuclear spent fuel generated by commercial nuclear reactors in the United States and from atomic energy defense activities.

That would in effect stop all imports, because the United States is years away from having that domestic storage capability. Only two of the DOE's proposed storage sites for the foreign waste, Savannah River in Georgia and the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, could accept spent fuel now. The other three won't be ready to take the fuel rods for about 10 years.

The Wyden-Bunn bill allows local port authorities to set health and safety guidelines for the safe shipment of the waste. It also follows recommendations of many ports that U.S. military facilities should be the primary entry points.

"It's very important for the U.S. to retrieve this fuel," said Alan Kuperman, a senior policy analyst at the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington, D.C.

"Any transportation of this type involves some risks, but in this case the environmental risks are small," he said. The DOE has taken a "sound approach," he continued, and if the Wyden-Bunn legislation "obstructs retrieval, that is irresponsible and could have serious proliferation consequences.

"Congress and ports need to think a little more globally about this," Mr. Kuperman said.

He said their interests also would be threatened if a terrorist gets possession of bomb-grade uranium.

A final decision by the DOE is due by the end of the year. It's likely the agency will choose one East Coast and one West Coast entry point. The Savannah site is the most likely candidate for storage, Mr. Kuperman said.