The projects not dead
"We all have friends and kids that live in Idaho Falls. We
wouldnt hurt them."
Bernie Meyer, President of Bechtel BWXT
By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer
Despite widespread belief that environmental activists killed plans for a
controversial toxic waste incinerator at the Idaho National Engineering &
Environmental Laboratory (INEEL), officials there say the activists probably only delayed
Four INEEL representatives visited the Idaho Mountain Express on
Thursday during a tour of Idaho newspapers aimed at increasing communication with the
During the meeting, INEEL deputy manager Warren Bergholz said the
much-criticized British Nuclear Fuels Limited remains under contract with the Department
of Energy to treat and transport to New Mexico 65,000 cubic meters of toxic waste stored
The waste consists of solidified sludge and a large amount of radioactive
debrisgloves, booties, painting masks, machine partsstored above ground in
buildings totaling about 3 1/2 football fields in floor area, Bergholz said.
A 1995 agreement between Idaho and the federal government set a timeline
for treating and removing the material. Treatment facility construction must begin by
2002, treatment must begin by 2003 and all treated waste must be transported to New Mexico
The planned destination in New Mexico is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant,
an abandoned salt mine where the waste will be buried for the indefinite future 2,100 feet
below the earths surface.
Only about 20 percent of the wastecalled polychlorinated biphenyls
(PCBs)requires incineration during treatment, Bergholtz said. The other 80 percent,
he said, INEEL plans to crush before transportation.
In March, the DOE settled a lawsuit by two nuclear activist groups by
agreeing to delay construction of an incinerator while an alternative method of treating
the chemical wastes is sought.
Bergholz said the department decided to settle because an appeal by
activists of the required hazardous waste and air quality permits could have delayed
treatment and transportation of all radioactive waste slated for removal from INEEL, not
just the 20 percent that requires incineration.
The agreement allows INEELs work on most of the new treatment
facilities to continue while a newly created "blue ribbon panel" of experts
looks at alternatives to incineration.
Because the Environmental Protection Agency only allows treatment of PCBs
by incineration, however, Bergholz said theres a "strong possibility that
weve put off the inevitable."
The technologies that offer alternatives to incineration are so new, he
said, that they could not be implemented within the state-mandated time frame.
None of the four INEEL representatives could say for sure what those
alternative technologies are.
When asked if its a foregone conclusion that the blue ribbon panel
will ultimately recommend incineration, DOE media relations officer Brad Bugger said,
"Were not going to prejudice the work of the panel. We have a little bit of
Bernie Meyer, president of Bechtel BWXT, a contractor that runs INEEL
operations, said a major task for INEEL will be to convince the public that smoke from an
incinerator is not dangerous. INEEL would have to do that through science, he said.
Alternatively, INEEL would use an emotional argument.
"We all have friends and kids that live in Idaho Falls," Meyers
said. "We wouldnt hurt them."