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Concern Expressed Over Idaho Closing Border To Radioactive Shipments

October 21, 1988

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) _ The Idaho governor’s decision to close his state to shipments of radioactive waste will mean that the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant northwest of Denver must find somewhere else to ship its wastes.

Colorado officials and citizens groups that monitor Rocky Flats, which manufactures plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons, expressed concern over the implications of Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus’ decision Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday said it would honor Andrus’ decision and curtail shipments to Idaho from Rocky Flats, which has sent virtually all its waste to Idaho for the last 20 years.

″This is a nightmare come true,″ said Jan Pilcher, spokeswoman for Citizens Against Rocky Flats Contamination. ″It’s absolutely unacceptable to store transuranic waste near a major metropolitan area.″

Rocky Flats does not have a state permit that would allow long-term storage of wastes on site, officials said.

Rockwell International Inc., which operates Rocky Flats for the Department of Energy, had planned to begin shipping plant wastes to a permanent disposal site in New Mexico this month.

Problems in obtaining permits have forced the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, near Carlsbad, N.M., to postpone its opening until next year.

Rockwell spokesman Pat Etchart said the DOE is ″assessing the impact″ of Andrus’ decision and examining all possible storage options.

Tim Holeman, an environmental advisor to Gov. Roy Romer, said state officials will meet next week with DOE and Rocky Flats officials to discuss how wastes will be handled at the facility.

″We don’t want any longer storage at Rocky Flats,″ Holeman said. ″We want WIPP to open as soon as possible.″

He said health and radiation experts will be asked to assess the possible added risk of long-term storage of wastes at Rocky Flats.

Andrus, in a sharply worded letter to Energy Secretary John Herrington, said long delays in opening WIPP have left 2.4 million cubic feet of contaminated material at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory near Idaho Falls.

Idaho was supposed to begin shipping 20 years of accumulated waste from Rocky Flats and other plants to the New Mexico site this month. But Congress failed to transfer the 10,240-acre site from the public domain to DOE.

Several unresolved safety concerns have delayed the opening as well, and when Andrus visited the New Mexico site this week, DOE officials told him they did not know when the facility would open.

″This answer is simply unacceptable,″ Andrus said in his letter to Herrington.

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