DOE Appeals Federal Court Ruling On INEEL's Buried Waste

Hearing to Address Special Waste Disposal at Northeastern Regional Landfill

* The Department of Energy (DOE) appealed a recent federal court ruling that would require them to remove 62,000 cubic meters of plutonium-contaminated buried waste from the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL), and ship it out of Idaho.

In 1995, Idaho's then-Governor Phil Batt and DOE agreed that DOE would clean up and ship out all of the transuranic waste at INEEL. In March, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ruled that both buried and aboveground waste must be removed from INEEL, although DOE argued that the agreement does not include buried waste. The waste is buried in rusting barrels and broken boxes in unlined pits and trenches above the Snake River Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to 200,000 people.

DOE will be spending $78 million for cleanup of one particular pit that is expected to contain 80 to 100 cubic yards of buried waste. Gary Richardson, of the Snake River Alliance, Idaho's nuclear watchdog, points out that this equals cleanup cost of approximately $1 million per cubic yard of waste.

However, Bob Stallman, INEEL's environmental cleanup manager, says that President Bush's accelerated cleanup plan has changed INEEL's attitude toward cleanup. The plan says that sites will receive greater cleanup budgets for decreasing the amount of time allotted for cleanup in hopes of cleaning up the nation's contaminated nuclear weapons production sites more quickly. DOE claims that this will protect human health and the environment and reduce risk. Stallman said, "There is a fundamental change. We're not here to manage the waste. We're here to clean it up."

Activists are skeptical of INEEL's dedication, however, particularly considering DOE's recent appeal. Richardson pointed out that DOE's appeal indicates that DOE is attempting to leave a substantial amount of waste buried at INEEL, despite their supposed commitment to cleanup.

* A New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) hearing is scheduled this week to examine allowing the disposal of eight special types of waste into the Northeastern New Mexico Regional Landfill in Wagon Mound. The special wastes include wastewater treatment sludge, industrial solid waste, asbestos waste, and petroleum contaminated soils and ash.

The Concerned Citizens of Wagon Mound and Mora County are opposed to the Northeastern Landfill's reapplication for an NMED Special Waste Permit, which would allow the landfill to accept special wastes from throughout the United States. The Concerned Citizens recently won a State Court of Appeals case that required NMED to rescind a Special Waste Permit that they previously had issued to the Northeastern Landfill. Herzog Incorporated, a national corporation, manages the landfill. They have recently reapplied to dispose of the special wastes and the upcoming hearing is part of the permitting process. The community continues to be opposed to this permit. Sofia Martinez, of the Concerned Citizens, said, "We do not want to become the nation's special wastes dump in Wagon Mound. This is clearly a case of environmental injustice."

The hearing will be held on Wednesday, June 18th at 6:00 p.m. in the Parish Hall of the Santa Clara Catholic Church in Wagon Mound, New Mexico.

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