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END IS IN SIGHT FOR ACCEPTING N-WASTE, 3 GOVERNORS ASSURED

SHARE END IS IN SIGHT FOR ACCEPTING N-WASTE, 3 GOVERNORS ASSURED

Beginning this fall, no more radioactive waste will travel on the West's highways or rails until a permanent repository opens in New Mexico, Energy Secretary James Watkins and three governors agree.

Watkins on Wednesday reiterated his announcement that the Department of Energy's estimated Sept. 1 opening of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., was unrealistic. Watkins toured WIPP with Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado and New Mexico Gov. Garrey Carruthers."Most importantly to Idaho, Admiral Watkins reaffirmed his commitment to me that the DOE will not ask or force Idaho to accept more waste after Sept. 1," Andrus said. "He fully understands our position and the fact that Idaho has done its part to solve this national problem."

Andrus had barred Idaho's doors to more waste in October because the repository comprising salt caves thousands of feet underground did not open on schedule. He relented in February because of national security concerns.

But the DOE will have passed its latest September opening date. Andrus will prohibit more waste into Idaho. Romer may soon close down the Rocky Flats weapons plant because there is no place for the waste to go. And Carruthers refuses to open WIPP without federal assurances of safety.

"We cannot expand the (waste storage) limit, and when we reach the limit, we will close Rocky Flats," Romer said.

"The admiral was very critical of his own house," Andrus said. "They publicly acknowledged what I have been saying for the past year, that waste handling is just as important as developing new technology, and they have to take care of waste. He acknowledged they have trouble in their own house. He's cleaning that house."

Andrus said the state would accept four more boxcars of radioactive waste from Colorado this summer, but once those have made their way to temporary storage at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, the shipments cease. More than 2 million cubic feet of waste is currently stored above ground at INEL.

Watkins declined to set a new deadline for the plant's opening during Wednesday's meeting, saying only it will not begin operating until all safety and environmental questions have been satisfactorily answered.