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Federal Study Says Too Many Radioactive Dumps Planned

November 25, 1989

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) _ States are pushing for more low-level radioactive waste dumps than the nation needs or probably can afford, according to a federal report to Congress.

The Office of Technology Assistance, which reviews scientific matters for Congress, concluded that too many low-level radioactive waste sites have been proposed at a time when less and less of that waste is being produced.

The report is expected to bolster the arguments of opponents to radioactive waste sites proposed in such states as Michigan, North Carolina and New York.

″The problem is there is an incredible reduction in the volume of waste we’ve had, and it looks like it’s going to continue,″ said Gretchen McCabe of the agency, who coordinated the study. ″From a cost-per-unit standpoint, we’re estimating huge cost increases.″

Utilities and industries in 1988 created 55 percent less low-level radioactive waste than in 1980, and the amount will decrease by half again before 1993, the OTA report predicted.

More than a dozen disposal sites, including one in Michigan, are proposed to take the waste now handled at three sites.

The report, given to Congress last week during its hectic push to wrap up business before the holidays, doesn’t specify exactly how many radioactive waste disposal sites the nation needs.

″Frankly, it’s a huge political game so there really isn’t an optimal number,″ McCabe said in a telephone interview Friday from her home in Washington, D.C.

At least some of the proposed sites will cost more than 10 times the current amount to run because there is not enough radioactive waste to support them, McCabe said. Disposal costs now average $35 to $45 per cubic foot to handle 10,000 cubic feet of waste a year, she said.

South Carolina, Washington and Nevada now have the only operating disposal sites for low-level radioactive waste. Sites in Illinois, Kentucky and New York were closed because of health and environmental dangers.

When the three states balked at becoming the nation’s radioactive dumping grounds, federal lawmakers gave all states until 1993 to prove to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission they can handle their own waste.

Many states already have entered compacts for other states to house their waste, angering those whose backyards are selected for the dumps. For instance, seven Midwestern states have agreed to send their radioactive waste to Michigan, prompting outrage in the three Michigan counties considered candidates for the dump.

The Office of Technology Assessment report gives three options: a federal limit on the number of dumps, oversight hearings to encourage states to limit the dumps themselves or no federal action at all. The agency does not endorse any option.

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